The second joint Cedefop/European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) policy learning forum on upskilling pathways discussed ways of developing such pathways for adults, in Brussels on 20 and 21 May.

Participants, ranging from EU and national experts to social partners, explored common challenges in upskilling low-skilled adults and worked with Cedefop experts on updating the analytical framework to support countries in developing upskilling pathways, which was prepared by the agency following the first forum in 2018.

Welcoming participants, Cedefop Head of Department for Learning and Employability Antonio Ranieri said ‘that most low-skilled adults will engage in a labour market perceived to be seriously unfair and that is why we have started the process to support as many people as possible.’

The President of the EESC’s Section on Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship Christa Schweng noted that ‘we need to invest in people as 43% of EU population has insufficient digital skills and 17% has no digital skills at all, while 1 in 5 of OECD adults lack basic literacy and numeracy skills.’

Cedefop expert Lidia Salvatore presented the agency’s work on mapping low-skilled adults. She said that 128 million adults in the European Union, Iceland and Norway (just over 46%) are in potential need of upskilling. Older unemployed and inactive adults are at particular risk of being low skilled in all the skills dimensions considered. Women are mostly at risk of having low digital skills as are older adults, even when they are employed. There are significant differences between countries.

On behalf of the Romanian EU Presidency, Augustin Mihalache outlined the Council’s work on upskilling and reskilling and thanked Cedefop for the cooperation during his country’s Presidency.

Cedefop experts Ernesto Villalba, Irene Psifidou, Patrycja Lipinska, Ramona David and Pedro Moreno Da Fonseca presented the key areas identified in the draft analytical framework: integrated approach to upskilling pathways, governance, identification of target groups, financial and non-financial support, lifelong guidance and outreach, monitoring and evaluation, skills assessment, validation and recognition, tailored learning offer leading to a formal qualification and tailored learning offer with work-based learning.

Ms Psifidou also presented online resources and tools developed by Cedefop to support countries in implementing upskilling pathways. They include the revamped vocational education and training (VET) toolkit to tackle early leaving.

Learning from one another

On the second day, participants discussed in groups the key areas of Cedefop’s analytical framework and came up with observations and proposals including: need to communicate strategy effectively, focus on reskilling as well as upskilling; clear and concise methodology in monitoring and evaluation; need to inform potential beneficiaries of funding opportunities and of courses available, raise awareness of SMEs on benefits of learning and existence of financial instruments; individual motivation to be reinforced, guidance services should support life processes not particular career phases; a person's learning outcomes must be clearly defined and communicated, tools need to be adapted to individual, training of practitioners is important and all this to be supported by funding; short-term targeted training can be combined with longer training leading to qualifications, and both employers and employees must be convinced of training’s value.

The outcomes of the group sessions were presented by the Cedefop experts and a panel discussion with stakeholders followed.

In the concluding session, Cedefop Management Board Chair Tatjana Babrauskiene said that she was positively impressed by participants stressing the importance of social partners as well as other actors. She thanked the EESC for co-organising the event and the European Commission for its support.

The EESC’s Akos Topolanszky added that access to upskilling pathways is an individual right for all citizens. And the Commission’s Dana Bachmann thanked Cedefop for taking the work on upskilling pathways forward, focusing on two key messages: the need to move from political commitment to action by increasing funding and rethinking what we put money into; the recognition of the importance of continuing VET.