This past summer (8 June) the European Parliament adopted a resolution, initiated by MEP Nadja Hirsch, on European cooperation in vocational education and training to support the European 2020 strategy. Looking back at almost 10 years since the launch of the Copenhagen process for better cooperation in vocational education and training (VET), the resolution called on the Member States to live up to their promises and implement the measures needed to make VET fit for the future. Among such measures, the common European tools and principles for VET play a leading role in making it easier to compare various forms of learning between countries and sectors, and allowing people to have this learning recognised across Europe. This past November, Cedefop organised two events at the European Parliament in Brussels to discuss these tools and principles: a workshop on the general impact on the tools; and a conference with the European social partners on the role of employers and workers in further developing and implementing the common tools and principles.

Hannu Takkula, MEP (ALDE, FIN); Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou;
Cedefop Acting Director Christian Lettmayr at the Cedefop workshop

The European Parliament workshop

On 22 November, Cedefop co-organised with the European Parliament and MEP Nadja Hirsch a workshop to discuss

  • progress in the implementation of the tools
  • what their impact has been so far
  • where to go next.

According to Mara Brugia, Head of Area Enhanced Cooperation in VET and Lifelong Learning at Cedefop, the impact of these initiatives is already significant. Europass has been used by 42.5 million citizens since its launch in 2005, and the implementation of national qualifications frameworks has been very rapid: by the end of 2012 most countries will have formally linked their qualifications frameworks to the EQF, thus greatly facilitating cross-border recognition. 

Underlying this, Brugia said, is a change of approach to qualifications: “We see now a much more systematic use of learning outcomes for defining and describing qualifications across Europe. This shift is taking place in all parts of the education and training system, although mainly  in initial vocational education and higher education – general education is still lagging behind".   

The EU tools are also beginning to affect the standing of vocational training. In Germany, a recent effort to attribute a higher level to a general certificate than the equivalent vocational certificate led to extensive discussions. In the Netherlands, an effort to place a general qualification higher than a vocational one was also challenged. In both cases, a common European tool informed by the learning outcomes approach – the EQF – encouraged a reappraisal of the level at which vocational qualifications were placed.

Stakeholders saw the European tools as a neutral reference point, allowing for a clear and unbiased comparison of qualifications acquired through different pathways.  One effect of the common tools is thus a more equitable evaluation of all forms of learning. But this changed perspective means that the common tools also affect established rights and obligations, thus potentially impinging on the interests of individuals, companies, or sectors. 

Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Multilinguism, linked the impact of the common European tools to the new role of education and training: "What is really at stake", she said, "is the ability and the readiness of educational systems to provide quality education and training that will reflect, on the one hand, the personal needs of young people and on the other, the growth and developmental needs of society and the economy". 


The Social Partner conference

Two days later (24-25 November), Cedefop joined forces with the social partners to explore their particular role in implementing the common tools, in a conference held once more in the European Parliament. 

Thomas Mayr of The European Association of Craft, Small and
Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME); Loukas Zahilas of Cedefop;
Gry Benedikte Sterner of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions

Social partner representatives pointed to the growing importance of the identification and assessment of skills acquired outside the formal education system - at work and in life.  Employers and employees, they pointed out,  must play a key role along with sectoral bodies in creating and implementing this process. Europass, ECVET and the arrangements for validating non-formal and informal learning can - separately and in combination – support citizens to better present and represent their full experiences.
For Luca Visentini, Confederal Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), good results had been achieved in defining frameworks, skills and competence. But he warned that big gaps remain “on the side of the mutual recognition of qualifications and diplomas, validation of non- formal and informal learning, and removing of obstacles to a fair mobility for learners and workers”

Steven D’Haesselaer, Social Affairs Director for BusinessEurope, agreed that despite clear progress much remains to be done. “The real test will be whether the whole framework of European transparency policy for VET and higher education has the ability to turn the European learning area into a concrete and dynamic reality. This will be dependent on simple and un-bureaucratic structures for implementation as well as the involvement of the social partners. Only then will we be able to use the tools to the fullest, and provide better employment prospects for workers, and give companies the competitive workforce they need”.

For more on how the implementation of the common European tools and principles is progressing, see Cedefop's latest "Briefing note - Shaping lifelong learning: making the most of European tools and principles".