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Promoting skills and careers without borders – WorldSkills conference

The 2017 WorldSkills competition took place in Abu Dhabi (15 to 19 October) with 59 national teams competing in 51 skills areas, spanning from cooking to mechatronics and bricklaying.

For the first time, a separate conference was linked to the main skills competition. The idea was to gather organisations working in skills and create a platform for international dialogue. Cedefop, together with the European Commission and the European Training Foundation (ETF), contributed to the conference actively, organising three thematic sessions on the topic of ‘Skills and careers without borders’.

Session one, moderated by the Commission’s Director General of DG Employment Michel Servoz, addressed the challenges related to the matching of skills needs and provisions and how to promote international cooperation in this area. It was pointed out that skills increasingly develop in an international context and that this requires international cooperation, supporting companies and education and training institutions. A key issue emphasised by the panel and the audience was the need to balance technical and occupational with soft or transversal skills. 

Session two, moderated by ETF Director Cesare Onestini, focused on how existing institutions and structures at national level can adapt to skill globalisation. The session demonstrated how countries are becoming increasingly aware of the need to renew their qualifications in light of international trends and challenges.

Session three, moderated by Cedefop Director James Calleja, focused on the actions required for making progress in this area. The discussion underlined that the current notion of recognition as being linked to formal qualifications is too narrow. It was agreed that promoting skills without borders requires a broader perspective where mobility and progress are based on formal qualifications in combination with work and life experiences and attitudes.

Mr Calleja drew attention to vocational education and training’s (VET’s) weak position regarding recognition of formal qualifications. Compared to higher education, where degree structures to a large extent are harmonised, VET qualifications (and the institutions delivering them) are far more diverse and harder to judge and trust. This lack of transparency is further increased by the lack of international agreements in this area, contrasting the situation in higher education where international conventions and networks support recognition and transfer.

Panellists pointed out that little has been done to promote solutions at global level. It was argued that the sectoral level provides an interesting starting point for cooperation and collaboration in this area, eventually supported by national and regional strategies. This will however require international support, providing a common reference and platform for work, and solutions that generate trust between highly diverse stakeholders and institutions.