At a joint Cedefop-OECD expert forum on 3 October in Rome, participants discussed ways of upskilling, reskilling and employing adult refugees amidst the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Europe.

The forum investigated what is being done at national level in terms of labour market integration of adult refugees and the role of vocational education and training (VET), but also what could be done at a transnational level to manage the refugee crisis better, with labour market intelligence and VET as part of the equation.

Representatives from 24 countries and from European and international organisations, including European social partners, the ILO, the UNHCR, the European Training Foundation and the European Commission, exchanged views on national challenges and practices and discussed how to match skills with labour market needs and how VET could support refugee relocation and integration in the EU.

Cedefop Deputy Director Mara Brugia said: ‘The serious humanitarian crisis Europe is facing is unprecedented in terms of numbers, multiple entry routes, citizenships and cultures. Around 300 000 refugees and migrants have arrived on the shores of Italy and Greece this year. Besides ensuring adequate and dignified reception conditions, helping refugees integrate in the EU is a major challenge, a process that has proven cumbersome even in non-crisis situations. Finding a job is fundamental to becoming part of the host country’s economic and social life. Employment and vocational training are core parts of the integration process. We shouldn’t forget the positive contributions third-country nationals can make to our economies and societies if they have the chance to use and/or develop their skills.’

No quick fix

According to Ms Brugia, ‘there is no quick and simple fix and no one-size-fits-all solution: support services for adult refugees need to be tailored to the specific characteristics, qualifications and needs of the different groups.’

She focused on the longer-term policies aiming at:

  • mainstreaming migration into the national human capital development policies in the countries of origin and destination; 
  • developing skills partnerships between the countries of origin and destination through special cooperation programmes between education and VET institutions;
  • linking migration management with international development cooperation and using more evidence in migration management and policy-making;
  • involving local authorities in the countries of origin, destination and transit (safe country) in the implementation of migration policies and services.

Ms Brugia concluded: ‘All actors need to share responsibility and work together: at EU and international levels; national, local and regional authorities; social partner organisations; employers; civil society organisations; citizens and the refugees themselves. Interinstitutional coordination is even more crucial locally, where integration is expected to take place.’  

Other speakers agreed that cooperation at all levels is important and should involve social partners, and pointed out that very little knowledge on refugee skills and qualifications exists.

The way ahead

VET for adults was confirmed to be one of the key areas that could be used to prepare refugees for the labour market. However, the systems in many countries are under pressure, and the aim is not to adapt them, but to build something new. This raises questions on funding, infrastructure capacity, availability of human resources, finding places for refugees to learn on the job, etc.

Participants also agreed that: it is better to anticipate because one of the reasons the situation is so difficult now is because EU countries were not prepared; intervention measures should be introduced as early as the asylum claim procedure, e.g. through early skills profiling of refugees – still the exception rather than the rule; public authorities need to cooperate with employers and move from the corporate social responsibility perspective to the business case, which is not obvious; no country can deal with the current situation on its own; complementary pathways increase the range of regulated means by which refugees may reach sustainable solutions to their international protection needs and which may be found within individual (third) countries or through regional means.

During the forum, the Italian authorities proposed to Cedefop to develop a pilot project in the framework of the relocation mechanism and test how skill strategies could support asylum applicants eligible for relocation but not in the category of vulnerable groups, and those with family and social ties in EU countries.

In the frame of this project, Cedefop will make the most of existing experiences and initiatives including the skills-profiling tool for third country nationals (i.e. toolkit) the Commission has been working on over the past year.