Joint meeting at the European Parliament to discuss the upcoming new skills agenda and how it can contribute to social inclusion and integration

Participation in lifelong learning, and therefore development of skills and competences, is crucial as it has an impact on combating social exclusion by offering and creating opportunities for everybody. Especially for the most disadvantaged (those who are far from formal education and have a weak income position, young adults who are not in education, employment or training (NEETs) and school dropouts), the gap between where they stand and the rest of society is simply too vast. Therefore, a stronger focus on supporting not only access to the labour market, but also personal empowerment is needed through the development of transversal skills, competences and knowledge throughout people’s lives.

As the European Commission is getting prepared for the launch of the New Skills Agenda in May 2016, Commissioners Thyssen (Employment, Social Affairs and Skills) and Navracsics (Education and Culture) had an exchange of views at the European Parliament with MEPs from the CULT and EMPL committees on 18 April. This joint meeting focused on the package of proposals foreseen for the upcoming New Skills Agenda and the priorities of the 2016 Commission.

The SOLIDAR Foundation welcomes the first propositions of the New Skills Agenda. It is extremely important to ensure that everyone has equal access to skills, at an early stage and throughout life, as it is a way to promote social justice and social inclusion. By ensuring that no one is left out, we contribute to a fairer and more inclusive society. Against this background, the SOLIDAR Foundation would like to stress that it is particularly urgent to support especially vulnerable groups in accessing basic and/or high end skills, as it is likely that they encounter more difficulties (financial, material, social and/or cultural difficulties) while acquiring them. We believe that by providing soft skills (social, civic and intercultural) we create spaces for healthy, peaceful coexistence that enable people to meet the challenges of adult life in the best possible conditions. The development of social, civic and intercultural competences need to take priority in education agendas, not only within formal education settings but should also be made available for other learners through non-formal and informal learning.

As a matter of fact, the priorities of the Skills Agenda are three-fold: ensuring higher and more relevant skills for all; including of EU mobile workers and third-country nationals; and reaching a better understanding of skills needs and trends in the labour market.

With regards to higher and more relevant skills for all, the Commission is referring to

  • numeracy and literacy skills: one out of five 15 years old students have insufficient levels of literacy and numeracy
  • digital skills: they are essential to perform in all sorts of jobs and everyday life in a digitalised economy. However, it is also of utmost importance to equip teachers with the relevant digital skills to be able to teach them to their students. As a matter of fact, 70% of teachers acknowledge the importance of digital skills, but only 25% of students and pupils are taught by digital-confident teachers.
  • transversal skills: as opposed to job-specific skills. Civic and social skills like communication, proficiency in foreign languages, team spirit, critical thinking, problem solving are main drivers for social inclusion (also in the context of migrants).

It is noteworthy that the Commissioners put special emphasis on entrepreneurship skills. They stressed that young people must acquire these skills and that they should have obtained at least one practical experience by the end of their compulsory education. Against this background of self-employment, observing MEPs were wondering about the responsibility of employers and pointed out that, despite the shift to self-employment, lifelong learning should be a common responsibility shared by employers, trade unions and employees. Finally, high end skills play also an important role and Higher Education should become more relevant to the needs of the economy and the labour market. To that end, Commissioner Navracsics reckons that it would be wise to modernize Higher Education.

Moving to the second objective, facilitate visibility and recognition, skills are not always properly identified or used, even when they are available. Therefore, the European Qualification Framework (EQF) will be updated and mechanisms should be developed to support the validation in all member states of skills already validated in one – including validation of skills acquired through non-formal and informal learning. This is of particular urgency in the context of the current refugee crisis.

The SOLIDAR Foundation agrees with the proposition on the validation mechanisms in all member states of skills already validated in one, but also want to use this opportunity to recall the Council Recommendation on validation, which calls on member states to develop validation arrangements for non-formal and informal learning by 2018, and expect that member states comply with this recommendation. In our opinion the recognition and validation of learning outcomes of non-formal and informal learning is a powerful tool to support the social inclusion and empowerment of people, especially those with limited opportunities to access and participate in formal education (in particular migrants and refugees), and it gives visibility to skills and competences developed in different learning environments.

Finally, concerning better skills intelligence, the Commissioners point out that overcoming skills gaps and mismatches require a better understanding of labour market needs and trends. They explained that not only should people be made more aware of the future labour market trends, but that effective national and regional business-education partnerships should seek a common understanding of skills needs and develop more accurate forecasts. Moreover, Commissioner Thyssen stated that Vocational Education and Training (VET) need to become more attractive and that it is essential that people see (again) the added value of it.

We particularly approve with this last proposition, as we have been observing during the last years in our LLL Watch initiatives that VET systems are suffering in many countries from low attractiveness and quality, especially when it comes to apprenticeships and work-based learning. The SOLIDAR Foundation recommends member states to review the relationship between welfare and apprenticeships (as well as other vocational work-based learning) in order to ensure that there is not an inadvertent motivation to refrain from entering VET and to put in place a strong framework for quality assurance.

Photo © European Union 2016 - Source : EP

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