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Skills: the new language of education and training

Cedefop Director James Calleja and Head of Department for VET Systems and Institutions Loukas Zahilas were keynote speakers in College and Institutes Canada’s (CICAN’s) 45th annual conference in Quebec City on 29 to 31 May.

Addressing over 820 vocational education and training (VET) practitioners, the Cedefop Director said that ‘to improve the image of VET, skills must become the new language of education and training.’

Mr Calleja spoke about the process leading to the development of VET at European level – from Copenhagen to the Riga conclusions. He said that the process has been long but rewarding for many EU Member States who have acted promptly to reform VET systems and introduce European policies and tools that benefit learners in formal, non-formal and informal learning environments.

‘VET is always called upon when unemployment spirals up, when people not in education, employment or training (NEETs) increase, when adult skills are missing, when early leavers become a social burden and when mismatching of skills frustrates young and older workers and employers,’ he added.

Parity of esteem

Mr Calleja noted that the various declarations from Copenhagen to Riga have provided a useful roadmap to many Member States and social partners to engage in a rethinking of education and training and in bridging the gap created by the separation of education from employment targets. ‘A lot has been achieved since 2002 but much more needs to be accomplished to ensure that VET enjoys the same parity of esteem as other sectors of education,’ he said.

Echoing European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility Marianne Thyssen's approach to the acquisition of skills, Mr Calleja stressed that Europe is at the crossroads of recognising that skills for life and skills for jobs do not contradict each other: ‘They overlap and enrich a person's curriculum increasing his or her chances of employment throughout working life. Behavioural skills and professional and vocational skills are equally in demand by employers who seek knowledgeable and hands-on individuals that are also flexible, adaptable and possess the right attitudes.’

Mr Calleja touched upon challenges and targets that many Member States have set in their reform process: to change the image of VET, increase quality assurance, promote work-based learning and apprenticeships, create conditions for mobility, and involve social partners at all stages of the VET process. Canada and Europe have many of these challenges in common, and sharing knowledge is an enriching experience.

European tools 

Mr Zahilas presented Cedefop’s and European Commission’s work on the European tools, specifically on the latest European qualifications framework (EQF) and national qualifications frameworks (NQFs) developments, the learning outcomes approach and the work on creating synergies between them.

Canada has a keen interest on such developments being one of very few countries not working in this direction. It seems that this is changing and they are considering working towards a Canadian qualifications framework.

Learning together

Messrs Calleja and Zahilas presented Cedefop’s role in VET cooperation at European level in the workshop ‘EU cooperation: learning together – working together’. For more than a decade, the EU has prioritised VET reform to raise skill levels and improve employment prospects providing enterprises with the skills they need. Progress has been made as educational attainment is rising, VET systems are becoming more flexible and VET is increasingly available at post-secondary and tertiary levels. European cooperation has had a strong and positive impact on these developments.

Cooperation with Canada

On the occasion of the conference, the Cedefop representatives met with Vice-President of International Partnerships at CICAN Paul Brennan and Alex Stephens, specialist in evaluation and learning.

The discussion focused on the cooperation between Canada and the European Union on education and training and the willingness of the Canadian government to further strengthen it, as well as Cedefop's work on policy monitoring and green skills. The Canadian system, in which provinces and territories have full autonomy in implementing education and training policies, and the lack of a Ministry of Education at federal level, were also discussed. It was agreed to continue exchanging information on areas of mutual interest.

A model for Africa

The Cedefop officials also met with an African delegation consisting of West African Economic and Monetary Union’s (UEMOA’s) Augustin Niango (Director of Commissioner’s cabinet, Burkina Faso) and Efia Assignon (counsellor on international development).

The African delegation requested the meeting to discuss Cedefop's experiences and work on European cooperation in education and training, the open method of coordination and the policy monitoring mechanisms in place. UEMOA is trying to follow the EU model of VET cooperation and Cedefop's insights were considered valuable for their future planning.

Mr Zahilas also spoke at a pre-conference panel discussion about VET and climate change which is at the forefront of the global agenda. He referred to Cedefop’s work on green skills and the expected impact of environmental and climate change policies on future skills demand within and across sectors.