The European Commission adopted on 10 June a new and comprehensive skills agenda for Europe. The aim is to ensure that people develop a broad set of skills from early on in life and to make the most of Europe’s human capital, which will ultimately boost employability, competitiveness and growth in Europe.

The New skills agenda for Europe calls on Member States and stakeholders to improve the quality of skills and their relevance for the labour market.

According to studies, 70 million Europeans lack adequate reading and writing skills, and even more have poor numeracy and digitals skills. This puts them at risk of unemployment, poverty and social exclusion. On the other hand, a large number of Europeans, particularly high-qualified young people, work in jobs that do not match their talents and aspirations. At the same time, 40% of European employers report that they cannot find people with the right skills to grow and innovate. Finally, too few people have the entrepreneurial mindset and competences to start their own business and keep adapting to evolving requirements of the labour market.

Increasing skills levels, promoting transversal skills and finding ways to better anticipate the labour market's needs, including based on dialogue with the industry, are therefore essential to improve people's chances in life, and support fair, inclusive and sustainable growth as well as cohesive societies.

To help tackle skills challenges, the Commission will launch 10 actions which will address these issues and make skills more visible and improve their recognition at local, national and EU levels, from schools and universities to the labour market.

Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, Marianne Thyssen, said: 'We need to invest more in skills in Europe. The most competitive countries in the EU, and in the world, are those that invest most in skills and 70 million Europeans are at the risk of falling behind. Stronger investment in skills is vital for strengthening competitiveness and boosting growth. And most of all, it is crucial to help people to realise their professional dreams and goals and reach their potential. I invite Member States, social partners and businesses to work together with us and make this New skills agenda for Europe a success.'

Some of the Commission's proposed 10 actions to be taken forward over the next two years, were launched on 10 June:

  • A Skills guarantee to help low-skilled adults acquire a minimum level of literacy, numeracy and digital skills and progress towards an upper secondary qualification.
  • A review of the European qualifications framework for a better understanding of qualifications and to make better use of all available skills in the European labour market.
  • The Digital skills and jobs coalition bringing together Member States and education, employment and industry stakeholders to develop a large digital talent pool and ensure that individuals and the labour force in Europe are equipped with adequate digital skills.
  • The Blueprint for sectoral cooperation on skills to improve skills intelligence and address skills shortages in specific economic sectors.

The rest of the actions will be launched later this year and in 2017:

  • A Skills profile tool for third country nationals to support early identification and profiling of skills and qualifications of asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants.
  • A revision of the Europass framework, offering people better and easier-to-use tools to present their skills and get useful real-time information on skills needs and trends which can help with career and learning choices.
  • Making vocational education and training (VET) a first choice by enhancing opportunities for VET learners to undertake a work-based learning experience and promoting greater visibility of good labour market outcomes of VET.
  • A review of the Recommendation on key competences to help more people acquire the core set of skills necessary to work and live in the 21st century with a special focus on promoting entrepreneurial and innovation-oriented mindsets and skills.
  • An initiative on graduate tracking to improve information on how graduates progress in the labour market.
  • A proposal to further analyse and exchange best practices on effective ways to address brain drain.

The role of Cedefop

Cedefop’s expertise will support the Skills agenda. Working in the European alliance for apprenticeships, Cedefop strongly advocates work-based learning for adults and young people as a way of developing skills relevant to the labour market.

Making skills more visible requires strengthening systems to validate non-formal and informal learning. Common European tools, which Cedefop helped to develop, such as the European qualifications framework and Europass, which make it easier to understand qualifications and for people to move between different types of learning and across borders, need to be improved.

So too, does labour market intelligence. Cedefop’s skill supply and demand forecasts for the European Union have provided insights into how the labour market is changing, showing differences in sectors and countries in terms of jobs and qualifications.

However, there is scope for developing and combining data on trends in skills and jobs and improving access to them, not just to policy-makers, but job seekers through interactive web platforms such as the Skills Panorama.

How exactly Cedefop‘s expertise will be used in the Skills agenda is being discussed, but the aim – to help people acquire relevant skills, show clearly  that they have them and make the right choices to put them to the best use – is clear.