Over 200 participants in Cedefop’s conference on how to make learning visible, on 28 and 29 November in Thessaloniki, agreed that validation of non-formal and informal learning is important for Europe’s future. Cedefop Director James Calleja stressed that ‘validation fights exclusion and makes employability possible.’

He noted: ‘We need to take small but consistent steps towards 2018 to put the 2012 Council Recommendation into practice. Validation has added value when political and legal support is forthcoming and when the most vulnerable in society can benefit from this tool.’

Learning value

In her opening speech, Cedefop Deputy Director Mara Brugia said that ‘the value of learning, or rather its outcomes in terms of knowledge, skills and competences, ranks high on Europe’s policy agenda today.’

She added: ‘It is outside school that many people have acquired the most important skills for their jobs. This is certainly the case with the 50+ generation. Formally, many of these people are low qualified but have gained important skills and competences in the course of their lives.’

So, validation is ‘really about making all learning visible to encourage people to continue, help them get a job and/or raise their self-esteem.’

Ms Brugia underlined that, in its long-standing work on validation, Cedefop has always advocated a comprehensive approach: ‘And our work has provided the evidence that EU Member States investing the most in strengthening their policies on validating skills, recognising qualifications and career guidance, have more inclusive and efficient labour markets.’

Political commitment

European Commission’s Ana Carla Pereira presented the current state of validation in Europe, noting that, although validation is high on the European political agenda, many countries have reported a lack of political engagement. This is where we should focus, she added.

Cedefop expert Ernesto Villalba, who organised the conference, presented the first results of the 2016 European inventory update. The inventory monitors the progress of validation arrangements from a country-specific and a thematic point of view, and it works together with the validation guidelines.

According to the inventory, there is increasing political commitment, but less involvement of social partners and civil society. Validation arrangements are education-driven and more coordination is needed. There is also potential for better use of ICT.

Participants discussed in parallel sessions validation for migrants, for the unemployed or at risk of unemployment, for low-skilled adults and for people in employment and came up with ideas for action.

Difficult issues

An engaging question and answer session with representatives of various stakeholders examined difficult issues related to trust, migrants, coordination, speed of action, employers, opportunities for the unemployed etc.

In his closing remarks, Mr Calleja said that ‘in many Member States there is still fear of change in implementing validation.’

According to the Cedefop Director, validation stems from proliferation of information (people learn anywhere, anything, at any time of the day), from aviation, which has dramatically increased mobility, and from wars, which have displaced people in many parts of the world.

We cannot ignore hidden skills if we want a competitive Europe, he added. In this process, employers and trade unions must be seen as shareholders and, together with training providers and authorities, must ensure that quality of the process breeds trust in it.

Moving forward

Mr Calleja listed the actions to be taken: ‘We need to reach a tipping point where validation is integrated in society; we need to believe that learning from whatever source has a value; we need political and legislative commitment to package action into value and give it a transparent process; we need to clarify the relationship between the private and the public spheres on the recognition of skills; we also need to proliferate awareness of validation’s value through the media and career counsellors; and finally we need to use national qualification frameworks to back the validation process and give people the chance to climb the qualifications ladder.’

Actions between now and 2018 should speak louder than words, he concluded.