Representatives from 29 countries discussed the latest developments, challenges and opportunities for vocational education and training (VET) during the 19th ReferNet annual plenary meeting, which was held virtually from 17 to 19 November 2021.

ReferNet is a network of institutions created by Cedefop in 2002 to provide information on national VET systems and policies in the EU Member States, Iceland and Norway. Each national partner is a key organisation involved in VET in the country it represents.

The main topics featured in this year’s meeting were the latest EU VET policy developments, the outcomes of the 2021 work plan and the preparation of the 2022 work plan; an integrated monitoring approach for the VET recommendation and the Osnabrück declaration; mobility scoreboard, teachers’ and trainers’ professional development to support inclusive and sustainable learning; microcredentials; and mid-term stock-taking of the 2020-23 framework partnership agreement.

Speakers included UNESCO's Borhene Chakroun, European Training Foundation's Georgios Zisimos and the European Commission's Chiara Riondino and Jan Varchola.

During the meeting, Cedefop experts had the opportunity to brief participants on various Agency projects:

Ralph Hippe presented the preliminary findings of the forthcoming ReferNet thematic perspectives on ‘Teachers and trainers in a changing world’. The findings indicate that there are several projects in European countries supporting teachers and trainers in the digital age and aiming at inclusiveness in VET; however, there are considerably fewer that focus on sustainability issues.

Regarding employment and skills, the implementation of the European green deal will have profound effects across sectors and occupations, however at different intensity and directions, according to Cedefop’s ‘green’ skills forecast scenario, to be published soon.

Stelina Chatzichristou also shared preliminary findings from the Cedefop’s running skills foresight exercise on smart and green cities and highlighted VET’s enabling role in safeguarding a just transition for all, particularly for workers that are expected to move to greener occupations and/or sectors.

Irene Psifidou announced the launch of the Agency's new toolkit for empowering young people aged between 15 and 29, not in employment, education or training (NEETs). Drawing from the success of Cedefop's VET toolkit for tackling early leaving published in 2017, this new toolkit is an online resource to support policy-makers and practitioners using VET as a life jacket for NEETs.

Next year, ReferNet will support Cedefop in monitoring early leavers from VET, addressing the new target the EU set for lowering early leaving from education and training rates to less than 9% by 2030. Cedefop will analyse the effects of COVID-19 on dropout rates.

However, Daniel Scheuregger warned of important data gaps at national level that hinder the exact measurement of the pandemic’s impact on VET.

George Kostakis presented the integrated policy monitoring and analysis of the Council Recommendation on VET and the Osnabrück Declaration, and the structure of the national implementation plans (NIPs) that countries will prepare by May 2022. Irina Jemeljanova outlined the 2022 policy reporting and how Cedefop prepares the transition to the integrated monitoring approach.

ReferNet partners and national representatives discussed their role in the preparation and implementation of NIPs and their cooperation with the Directors General of Vocational Training. They are an indispensable part of the EU monitoring and reporting chain, providing annual valuable information to Cedefop on the countries’ achievements in modernising their VET systems for a green and digital transition in the post-COVID recovery.

ReferNet coordinator Sylvie Bousquet introduced the internal reflection on stock-taking at half-way of the framework partnership agreement 2020-23. On this basis, partners and national representatives will help shape together the best possible cooperation for the partnership's second part through active involvement of all.

The meeting focused on the importance of networks to maintain mutual understanding, knowledge-sharing and active cooperation in an international background, also in unstable times, where exclusively virtual meetings make creative co-thinking more difficult. In his closing remarks, Head of the Department for VET and Qualifications Loukas Zahilas looked ahead to the 20th anniversary of ReferNet in 2022.