EU to push dual education to bridge skills mismatch

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Business people slammed Europe’s education and training systems for being inapt to prepare jobseekers to fill vacancies and called for school system reforms, including establishing dual learning schemes, which European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said will be highlighted in the upcoming EU proposal on skills.

“Europe must educate for employment,” said Jürgen Thumann, President of BusinessEurope, speaking at the yearly European Business Summit yesterday (27 April), lamenting that over four million EU jobs are vacant because jobseekers don’t have the right skills to fill them.

Praising the German dual education system which combines theoretical and practical teaching, Thumann stressed the EU should allocate a share of the European Social Fund to  provide funding for those member states that wish to establish a dual learning system, which currently already exist in Austria, Switzerland and Denmark.

“One-fifth of young people are lacking a perspective for the future,” stressed Thumann, adding that skills are increasingly disconnected from market needs and the mismatch keeps growing. “Urgent action is needed,” he said.

Speaking at the Summit, Commission president José Manuel Barroso said the Commission is preparing a communication which will provide recommendation for member states in the areas of skills and entrepreneurship, where dual education will be highlighted as one of the important solution.

Obama’s to boost vocational training

Even across the Atlantic vocational training has become a leitmotiv of the US administration, which is consistently making the case that strong economies need strong manufacturing capability.

“We cannot accept the notion that manufacturing is dead,” said US Ambassador William Kennard, offering the view that not all jobs can be offshored to emerging economies. He said that one-third of unemployment in the US can be attributed to skills mismatch.

Many jobs require something between high school and university education. This is why the Obama administration is supporting community colleges across the nation. These institutions can bridge the skills gap. Kennard offered the example of IBM.

Last year, IBM, in partnership with the City of New York, kicked off a new school to teach kids IT skills and graduate them with a free associate’s degree. And a New York-based venture capitalist along with a group of industry supporters has contributed to the creation of a new high school to teach software engineering in the city.

Germany’s case

High-tech companies have repeatedly stressed the need to have manufacturing capability closer to the R&D facilities. The two cannot be disconnected, said one IT business people.

This is what made the strength of Germany. Many factors are credited to the success of German industry, but the underlying force may rest in the well-established quality and reliability of its products.

The essence of the quality of German products can in many ways be attributed to the skill level of its workers, said experts. Their high skill levels are a direct result of the country’s apprenticeship training programs, more commonly referred to as the dual educational system, they added.

The time spent at vocational school is approximately 60 days a year, in blocks of one or two weeks at a time spread out over the year.

Gerhard Braun, CEO of Braun GmbH, noted that that Germany has a long history of dual education, which is a costly system, but that allows companies to maintain skilled labour.

“It is a very good investment for young people,” Braun said, but implementing it Europe-wide needs careful consideration.

The Commission agrees and notes that it is not possible to harmonize such system. “Looking at the performance of Germany or Austria, you cannot create a dual system in a couple of years as you don’t only need the readiness of business to take on the cost of such system, but you also need to develop societal and cultural acceptance,” said Jan Truszczy?ski, Commission’s director general for education and culture.

In many countries vocational training is still perceived negatively. Not in Switzerland. Valentin Vogt, president of the Swiss Employers’ Confederation, noted that the system allows young people to find more rapidly a job and it builds self-esteem and self-motivation. But policy-makers should make sure that vocational students can access university if they feel like it at a later stage, experts said.

Europe faces an acute shortage of highly educated and qualified workers in the fields of science, technology and engineering, which threatens to undermine the future economic competitiveness of the EU.

The 'Europe 2020' strategy, signed off by EU leaders in 2010, includes a target to increase the employment rate across all member states from its current level of around 69% to 75% by 2020.

Achieving this target, which applies for both women and men between 20 and 64 years of age, will mean reducing the number of unemployed people in the EU from around 23 million (9.5% of the workforce) at the start of 2011 to less than 12 million (5% of the workforce) in 2020.

In a recent survey, less than a fifth (18%) of 500 European business and government leaders polled planned to increase spending on skills and training over the next 12 months, but 43% admitted that they themselves faced a skills shortage and 72% said increased investment was needed for skills.

  • By end 2012: Commission to present a Communication on Rethinking skills in the context of Europe 2020

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