Commission targets EU skills boost for green and digital transitions 

This week, the European Commission is staging its Vocational Education and Training (VET) week as a means to foster the uptake of skills that can aid in the executive's twin ambitions in the green and digital transitions. EURACTIV caught up with the Commission's Joao Santos to hear more.   

This week, the European Commission is staging its Vocational Education and Training (VET) week as a means to foster the uptake of skills that can aid in the executive's twin ambitions in the green and digital transitions. [Shutterstock]

This article is part of our special report Upskilling Europe: The path to a green and digital future.

This week, the European Commission is staging its Vocational Education and Training (VET) week as a means to foster the uptake of skills that can aid in the executive’s twin ambitions of the green and digital transition. EURACTIV caught up with the Commission’s Joao Santos to hear more just after the EU executive launched its Pact for Skills on 10 November.

Joao Santos is the deputy head of unit in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs, and Inclusion. 

What’s the main objective of the European Vocational Skills Week?

The European Vocational Skills Week is an annual event where local, regional, or national organizations showcase the very best of vocational education and training (VET). VET is a path to a more fulfilling personal and professional life.

European Vocational Skills Week is a platform to make VET’s potential more widely known, and an opportunity to exchange information and good practice across Europe and beyond. This year’s theme is VET for Green and Digital Transitions, and it will take place between 9 and 13 November, with hundreds of events taking place all over Europe.

What are the current labour market needs that the EU’s vocational education and training (VET) programme attempts to meet? 

The rapid shift towards a climate-neutral Europe and digital transformation is changing the way we work, learn, take part in society and lead our everyday lives. Europe can only grasp these opportunities if its people develop the right skills. The Covid 19 pandemic has also had a profound impact on millions of people in the EU have lost their job or experienced significant income loss. Many will need to acquire new skills and move to new jobs in a different sector of the economy. More will need to upskill to keep their job in a new work environment. For young people, entry in the labour market could be very challenging.

VET programmes offer a balanced mix of vocational including technical skills well aligned to all economic cycles, evolving jobs, and working methods and key competences, including solid basic skills, digital, transversal, green and other life skills which provide strong foundations for resilience, lifelong learning, lifelong employability, social inclusion, active citizenship, and personal development. Thereby providing people with skills that help them get or create jobs in demand on the labour market.

The European Commission launched its Pact for Skills on 10 November. Could you tell us more about the importance of this initiative in the current context, amid the coronavirus crisis?

We live in times of change. With the twin digital and climate transitions, we are both witnessing and shaping one of the major transformations in history. Those transitions alongside demographic change affect our social market economy model and our societies in general. At the same time, the COVID-19 crisis is accelerating a number of trends related to the future of work, from remote work to automation of highly repetitive tasks, while also putting a large number of people into unemployment or short-time work schemes.

This is why the Commission is launching a Pact for Skills — a shared engagement and approach to skills development. The Pact aims to mobilize and incentivise private and public stakeholders to take concrete action for the upskilling and reskilling of people of working age, and, when relevant, pool efforts in the partnerships.

Does the Pact prioritise any skills in particular? In your opinion, what are the skills that can help Europeans in the job market of the future?

The Pact will integrate and give a further boost to initiatives that support upskilling and reskilling of people of working age, with a strong focus on industrial ecosystems and regions, which are the most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and critical for driving forward the European economic recovery and the digital and green transition. The aim of the Pact is not to concentrate on concrete types of skills but on people and their needs in line with the needs of the labor market.

Skills that can help Europeans in the job market of the future are skills connected with the ability to learn, adapt to the fast changes, being able to work with others, find information and connect facts.

What are the key performance indicators for ensuring that the Pact for Skills delivers for Europe in the long term? How will you observe the Pact’s success?

All stakeholders joining the Pact sign up to the Charter and its key principles, which they agree to respect and uphold. Signatories of the Pact are invited to translate their engagement into concrete commitments on upskilling and reskilling. Commitments must be in line with the key principles and can be built around a number of “enablers” that illustrate concrete ways of implementing the different principles.

Commitments are monitored by at least one key performance indicator, e.g. the number of people taking part in upskilling or reskilling. Through self-reporting, we will gather information on how the individuals’ initiatives under Pact for Skills are progressing.

The Commission published its Digital Education Action Plan earlier this year. What has the coronavirus crisis and new culture of widespread remote working taught us about the importance of rolling out key digital skills en masse?

2020 has been an unprecedented year of challenge and disruption for working, but also for education and training. With millions of workers and learners across the EU affected by the physical closure of workplaces and education institutions and venues, there has been a massive shift to remote working and learning. This has raised significant challenges in terms of quality, equity, connectivity, infrastructure and capacity for rolling out key digital skills on a huge scale.

The Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027) was published on 30 September and it outlines the European Commission’s vision for high-quality, inclusive, and accessible digital education in Europe. It is a call to action for stronger cooperation at the European level.  Firstly, to learn from the COVID-19 crisis, during which technology is being used at an unprecedented scale in education and training, but secondly, also to make education and training systems fit for the digital age. It has two strategic priorities: 1. Fostering the development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem, and 2. enhancing digital skills and competencies for the digital transformation, including of teachers and trainers, from basic to more advanced digital skills.

The pandemic is providing an opportunity to rethink how digital learning can be best integrated into VET curricula, including apprenticeships and traineeships. For instance by making greater use of immersive technologies like virtual and augmented reality linked to artificial intelligence or piloting tools like SELFIE for work-based learning, which is a free online self-reflection tool to help VET providers and companies embed digital technologies in work-based learning.

Reskilling Europe’s citizens is not only about ensuring that young people have the right capabilities. What other demographics in Europe do you believe suffer from a deficit in key skills generally?

The crisis has also highlighted the need for adults to have opportunities to build their skills after initial formal education and training. The European Skills Agenda for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness, and resilience recognizes this and sets objectives for 2025 to encourage a step-change in adult participation in learning.

Inclusion of the lower qualified, who are most in need of up- and reskilling but typically less involved, is one priority reflected in these objectives. For example, 70% of adults to have at least basic digital skills (2019: 56%), 30% of low-qualified adults to participate in learning in a 12-month period (2020: 18%), 20% of unemployed adults to have a recent learning experience (2019: 11%).

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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