Speaking in Brussels and Vienna, Cedefop Director James Calleja said that work-based learning is a step towards winning the race for competitiveness and inclusivity by nurturing Europe’s ‘best hands and minds’.

At a European policy-sharing seminar, jointly organised by the German and Danish Ministries of Education and Research in Brussels on 14 September, Mr Calleja referred to work-based learning as the oldest form of learning and the way to meet the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution which will focus on collaboration to attract and nurture talent in young and older generations alike.

He added: ‘Every person has talent but many education systems that catered for a one-size-fits-all approach left Europe with over 70 million low-skilled adults; one in every four persons has poor numeracy and one in every five poor literacy skills. Employers and educators may certainly use different approaches to learning, but their common responsibility is to provide learners and workers with skills for life and for jobs.’

The seminar looked at the different perspectives on work-based learning and apprenticeships; the models of Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland were shared to enable social partners and policy-makers to adopt and adapt systems which help more learners and workers to acquire skills needed for current and future jobs.

European Commission’s Director of Skills Policy Detlef Eckert spoke about the need for vocational education and training (VET) mobility to become a reality. He urged Member States to tap European and national financial resources to attract more learners into learning and working experiences beyond their countries.

What next for policy-makers?

In his keynote speech at the Federation of Austrian Industries’ conference in Vienna on 22 September, Mr Calleja dealt with the dilemma between low fertility rates in Europe and migrants wanting to live on the continent in the context of competitiveness and the race for the best hands and minds.

Among the keynote speakers were European Commissioner for Education Tibor Navracsics, Deputy Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki and Austrian Federal Minister for Families and Youth Sophie Karmasin.

Mr Calleja said that workplaces and schools must work hand in hand to make lifelong learning a reality. Labour force quality is crucial to keep up with technology progress and labour market productivity.

Forecasts show that the service sector will be the main economic driver in the EU due to demographic and technological changes and globalisation. The key task for Member States is to work on understanding better what skills we need and to inform policies and decisions.

Reliable and robust labour market data, anticipation of trends and future skill needs and transformation of these analyses into policies and actions will enable governments to match supply and demand. The Austrian and German models of skill forecasting are recommended.

The Cedefop Director offered six solutions to the dilemma that low fertility rates and migration pose to several countries:

  • activation policies must create productive workplaces and jobs that last;
  • rather than numbers, migrants must be seen as human capital providing quality work and ready to be integrated into European societies;
  • education at compulsory level needs rethinking, with businesses having a shareholder role rather than simply acting as stakeholders;
  • lifelong learning must be incentivised to keep people in jobs and make companies competitive;
  • cross-industry cooperation and private/public partnership should provide more apprenticeship places and better learning in working environments;
  • investment in VET and in higher VET is never enough.

Mr Calleja added: ‘Many Member States where VET is still unattractive, will get the chance to use the New skills agenda for Europe as a catalyst for inclusivity; more quality jobs should help hire people with the right skills, but let’s train people without skills and use learning and working as a tool to integrate third-country nationa ls into European societies better.’

According to the Cedefop Director, if we use digitalisation intelligently in schools together with acquisition of soft skills and behavioural competences, ‘young people may move away from addiction to the virtual world and towards the real world of learning to learn, acquiring skills needed to communicate and live a better life.’