Over 80 partner and national representatives from ReferNet’s 30 countries took part in the Cedefop network’s 16th annual plenary meeting, a European vocational skills week event, in Thessaloniki from 21 to 23 November.

ReferNet, Cedefop’s European network for vocational education and training (VET), was set up to meet a growing demand for comparative information about VET systems, developments and policies. Its members represent the 28 EU Member States, Iceland and Norway.

On the first day of the 2018 plenary, national representatives discussed the validation of ReferNet deliverables and explored new scenarios for validation.

Cedefop Head of Department for VET Systems and Institutions Loukas Zahilas and ReferNet coordinator Sylvie Bousquet welcomed the participants who later formed working groups to explore the scenarios as well as issues for planning a new framework partnership agreement once the current one runs out in 2019.

National representatives asked for the added value of being part of ReferNet to be highlighted.

Essential input

On the second day, partner representatives joined the meeting. In her opening remarks, Cedefop Acting Director Mara Brugia outlined the agency’s activities to support VET policy and practice at EU-level and for Member States post-2020.

She thanked partners for their support, saying that the information they provide is essential for Cedefop policy documents: ‘As a small agency, being able to rely on a network of expertise like ReferNet is key.’ Ms Brugia added that country-based information will be an even stronger pillar of Cedefop’s work in the coming years.

The European Commission’s Jan Varchola presented the latest EU VET policy developments, telling participants that their input is important to the Commission’s work on VET. He referred to the prominent role of skills and VET in the European pillar of social rights and stressed the contribution of Cedefop’s study on the changing nature and role of VET to the preparation of the Commission’s post-2020 strategy.

Cedefop expert George Kostakis gave examples of how ReferNet’s work is used by Cedefop and in EU policy documents.

Cedefop expert Pedro Moreno da Fonseca explained how the outreach and guidance reports provided by ReferNet fit into the relevant Cedefop project, and how they were used to inform a joint Cedefop-EESC policy learning forum on upskilling pathways for low-skilled adults.

ReferNet partner representatives from Hungary and Latvia presented dissemination activities of their work.

Future outlook

Cedefop expert Konstantinos Pouliakas talked about the digital transformation’s impact on skills, and whether we are prepared for the future of work. He said that the fourth industrial revolution may have a different impact on jobs than previous technical developments, and asked ReferNet partners to contribute to a Cedefop article on what policies are being introduced in countries to adapt to digitalisation.

Partners from Austria, Germany and Spain presented programmes related to the industry 4.0 in their countries.

Cedefop expert Dmitrijs Kulss talked about the next steps in reporting on policies and national VET systems.

On the final day, a new thematic perspective of long-term international mobility of apprentices with input from ReferNet was discussed by Cedefop experts Lisa Rustico and Vlasis Korovilos, while Ilias Livanos presented the European skills index, a novel single measure to gauge countries’ skills systems.

A new ReferNet knowledge-sharing platform was also on the agenda with a focus on systems from France, Sweden and the Netherlands, before the partners were given time for individual meetings.

In the concluding session, Cedefop expert Irene Psifidou presented the new project on social inclusion and labour market integration and invited ReferNet partners to become ambassadors for the VET toolkit on early leaving. Cedefop ReferNet team member Maite Santos presented the visibility survey 2014-17.