The EU ministers for education met informally within the framework of the German EU Presidency in Osnabrück on 16 and 17 September to discuss a new impetus for vocational education and training (VET) and to kickstart the Osnabrück declaration to modernise European VET and deepen cross-border cooperation within a European Education Area.

Following a consultation phase, the declaration is set to be adopted on 30 November 2020.

Speaking at the meeting, Cedefop Executive Director Jürgen Siebel stressed that the objectives of the draft Osnabrück declaration are spot on: ‘They put VET centre stage in the green and digital transformations and the recovery within the EU and in our neighbourhood.’

He went on: ‘While initial VET remains important and needs to be developed, continuing VET will gain relative importance, accelerated through digitalisation and the Covid-19 crisis, and addressed in Objective 2.’

With Cedefop’s lead in labour market and skills intelligence, said Mr Siebel, ‘we will help policy-makers to address the green and digital skills demands, curricula, and training-delivery methodologies, as requested in Objective 3. For Objective 4, Cedefop and our sister agency, ETF, provide the backbone of VET’s international dimension: Cedefop with the European qualifications framework and national qualifications frameworks, guidance, validation and recognition, and ETF with its neighbourhood outreach activities.’

The Cedefop Executive Director concluded: ‘With ETF we are ready, willing and able to support, facilitate and monitor the Osnabrück objectives – as we have done for Riga in the past.’

Mr Siebel also had the chance to discuss Cedefop and its contribution to evidence-based VET policy-making with German Federal Minister for Education and Research Anja Karliczek who chaired the event.

Encouraging results

Following the conclusion of the two-day meeting, Ms Karliczek presented the results in a press conference. She said that the Osnabrück declaration is ‘a clear signal of how we want to shape VET and how much potential it has,’ adding: ‘All Member States and social partners will sign the declaration, showing our commitment to VET. This focuses on four key goals: increasing economic resilience, establishing a culture of lifelong learning, also in a cross-border sense, embedding principles of sustainability in VET, and strengthening support of its international dimension.’

According to Ms Karliczek, ‘VET is the best opportunity for young people to successfully enter the labour market. One thing we all agreed on is that advanced vocational qualifications are an excellent parallel career opportunity to university studies, and we want to continue to expand on this and make it very attractive for young people.’

European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Right Nicolas Schmit said: ‘Our success with the digital and green transformations, the social and economic future of Europe, its prosperity very much depend on our education and VET systems. The Commission took quick action in this area because we saw this connection between economic change and VET. In July we presented our renewed skills agenda, which includes a Council Recommendation on VET to be adopted in November.’

He thanked Ms Karliczek for launching the Osnabrück declaration: ‘It’s a challenge for all of us, for the Commission and the Member States, to find out how we can shape this cooperation. Our goal is to implement this declaration. We have set ourselves clear goals and that is what we need to work on over the next four-five years.’

Earlier, during the meeting, Mr Schmit argued that ‘we need good data on skills demands and developments; we have to draw on our skills and labour-market intelligence, and here Cedefop is doing an excellent job.’

European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Mariya Gabriel said that this crisis has shown how much needs to be done to support digital readiness and reinforce the education and training systems in Europe: ‘Our next initiatives will strengthen our cooperation. The digital education plan and the European Education Area will be presented at the end of September and will define our cooperation with Member States up to 2025.’

She quoted Cedefop research, which shows that more than a third of the European active labour force is missing the basic digital skills required in most jobs across sectors, to underline that ‘upskilling and reskilling those already in the labour market will be of key importance in the coming years. Online learning platforms and digital schools can be a great way to achieve that in a flexible and personalised manner.’