Speaking at events in Brussels and Turin, Cedefop Director James Calleja urged vocational education and training (VET) stakeholders to ‘think European, but act locally’.

In his intervention at a conference on apprenticeship mobility organised by the Labour Market Observatory of the European Economic and Social Committee and the European Parliament on 2 June in Brussels, Mr Calleja listed five key issues that countries can address to promote mobility in apprenticeship programmes:

  • close the gap between education and training institutions and businesses through a structured dialogue and joint activities;
  • harmonise apprenticeship programmes between countries through a framework model which could be applied in all Member States;
  • provide substantial funding to vocational training and apprenticeship programmes from various European sources, notably the youth employment initiative, the youth guarantee, the investment plan to promote jobs and growth and structural funds besides Erasmus+;
  • a strong political commitment to promote work-based learning and apprenticeships through the recognition of qualifications acquired through apprenticeship programmes at national and European levels;
  • and Europe-wide campaigns to attract learners and employers to apprenticeships.

It is ironic, Mr Calleja said, that many employers consider mobility programmes for apprentices and non-graduates as costly and unjustified, but push graduates to work experience in a wide array of traditional professional sectors.

‘We are selective in associating apprenticeships to professional qualifications which are held to be of prestige and lucrative, but not to other skills that the labour market requires to engage more people in employment – yet unemployment among young people remains high and the number of NEETs (people not in education, employment or training) is alarming,’ Mr Calleja concluded.

In Turin, the Cedefop Director addressed over 200 participants from candidate and partner countries at the European Training Foundation (ETF) conference ‘Torino Process 2015 – moving skills forward together.’

Mr Calleja said that, like the Copenhagen process, the Torino process is a vision and a benchmark for partner countries to ensure, through vocational educational and training, that their citizens meet the lifelong challenges posed by employment.

‘Labour market is increasingly marginalising those who fail to engage in lifelong learning and training,’ he added. Any European process should address people’s needs.

Evidence in Member States shows clearly that learning while working is a prerequisite to employability, mobility and career prospects. Mobility would be jeopardised unless a credit system for VET is established. The same applies to partner countries in which economic and human capital development top the government agenda. VET policies should facilitate use of recognised tools for transparency and quality assurance.

Mr Calleja referred to lessons learnt from Member States in VET reform, particularly the challenge of closing the gap between education and training and the work environment through entrepreneurship education; use of European tools which in many cases find bureaucratic and institutional obstacles that prevent young people from experiencing study and work away from their countries; mismatching of qualifications with job offers and the frustration of young people who do not manage to find a job or who are overqualified; the need to inject more work-based learning in VET programmes and attract more students to a learning environment which offers a balance between cognitive and practical experiences; and engaging businesses with schools and vice-versa at local/regional levels.

‘In vocational training, think European but act locally,’ stated Mr Calleja.

With the Riga conclusions expected to be endorsed by Ministers responsible for VET in Member States later in June, a key lesson learnt is that VET reform must be focused, realistic and pragmatic. Reforms must address people’s needs. Reducing youth unemployment and redirecting NEETs into employment are key priorities for all.