Viewpoint: After COVID-19, Europe needs a fresh approach for vocational education and training

06 Nov 2020 | Viewpoint

Faced with the pandemic and an urgent need to re-skill, vocational learning needs to become more attractive, flexible and fit for the digital age and green transition, says the European Commissioner for jobs and social rights

Nicolas Schmit

Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for jobs and social rights. Photo: European Parliament.

Today, green and digital transitions are reshaping our way of life, work and interactions, and the COVID-19 outbreak is dramatically accelerating most of these changes.

The impact of the pandemic on the job prospects of millions of people in Europe highlights the need to turn the green and digital transitions into opportunities for everyone, to ensure recovery from the crisis.

This can only be done if people in Europe have the skills to ride the wave of these transitions, which means unprecedented efforts to upskill and reskill the workforce. The right to lifelong learning is enshrined in the European Pillar of Social Rights. It allows adults to learn new skills and develop their careers throughout their lives, and it is at the core of Europe’s recovery efforts.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the existing digital skills gap, and new inequalities are emerging. Vocational education and training can play a decisive role in the recovery. It has helped millions of people around the world earn as they learn. But it is so much more than that. It gives young learners the initial skills they need for a fulfilling career and provides adults with the means to continue learning and training throughout their working lives.

Vocational education and training will be an essential tool to help young people and adults find quality jobs especially after the coronavirus crisis. The employment rate of recent vocational graduates in Europe is almost 80 per cent. Some 60 per cent of vocational education graduates find their first long-term job within a month of finishing their studies; 80 per cent after six months.

The best response to the pandemic involves a fresh impetus behind vocational learning, making it more modern, attractive, flexible and fit for the digital age and green transition. 

The European Skills Agenda from July 2020 proposes key actions to support upskilling – the improvement of existing skills – and reskilling, or training in new skills, thus empowering lifelong learning.

The ambitious agenda includes a first-ever comprehensive policy framework for vocational education and training at EU level. Whilst vocational education and training systems are diverse across member states, our principles and objectives are aligned. This form of education should:

  • cater for the skills needs of both young and adults,
  • be reactive to the needs of the labour market  and ensure active participation in society, 
  • be integrated into economic, industrial and innovation strategies,
  • and at the same time vocational programmes should embed social and environmental sustainability.

The time to act is now. The move towards digitalisation, sustainability and a greener future will impact all of our jobs.

The European Vocational Skills Week 2020, from 9-13 November is all about these challenges and how we can turn them into opportunities. This year’s theme is vocational education and training for green and digital transitions. Organised in close cooperation with the German Presidency of the Council of the European Union, it will be fully digital and therefore widely accessible.

I very much invite everyone to join in.

Luxembourg’s Nicolas Schmit is the European Commissioner for jobs and social rights since 2019. He was previously a member of the government of Luxembourg from 2004 to 2019 and a member of the European Parliament in 2019.

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