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Competitiveness and strong vocational qualifications: replicating the past or looking to the future?

At a seminar jointly organised by Cedefop and the Slovak EU Presidency on 13 December in Brussels, experts and Brussels-based stakeholders discussed key challenges related to the strengthening of vocational education and training (VET).

Slovak Presidency’s Head of Unit Ivan Hromada welcomed the 50 participants from the Representations of Member States to the EU, the European Commission, the European Parliament, European business and sector associations, trade union and employer organisations.

It was the second such Cedefop event, following the one on matching better skills in better jobs, jointly organised with the Netherlands EU Presidency last June.

Comparing qualifications

The seminar discussed the preliminary findings of Cedefop’s ongoing comparative study on vocational qualifications. The study is done in cooperation with UNESCO and the European Training Foundation (ETF), and compares 10 similar vocational qualifications in 13 European and 13 non-European countries. It shows how learning outcomes and competence requirements have been defined in different countries and offers a unique insight into national ambitions; demonstrating similarities as well as differences in requirements and priorities.

Based on this comparison, the study also investigates the ‘feedback loop’ between the worlds of education and training and work, seeking to identify how this can be improved and strengthened. The study makes it clear that VET qualifications need to change continuously and rapidly. It also draws attention to the need to balance national needs with international requirements.

Cedefop expert Jens Bjornavold pointed to the pressures facing European VET and the need to strengthen the dialogue between education and training and the labour market (the feedback loop). This is critical for ensuring VET qualifications’ quality and relevance.

Useful insights 

Simon Broek, from Ockham Consultancy IPS, presented outcomes of the combined Cedefop-UNESCO-ETF study on learning outcomes. Using the new ESCO classification on occupations, skills, competences and qualifications as a reference point, the study provides an insight into how countries address the balance between job/occupation-specific and transversal skills and competences in their qualification standards and requirements.

UNESCO’s Borhene Chakroune stated that the comparative methodology piloted by the study allows us to better understand similarities and differences between national qualifications. Mr Chakroune saw the balancing of occupational specific and transversal skills and competences as critical for future VET developments and underlined the need to increase international cooperation in this area, also using digital technologies, to make mobility and recognition of skills and qualifications easier. 

European Commission’s Joao Santos drew lessons from the longstanding European cooperation in VET.

Cedefop Head of Department for VET Systems and Institutions Loukas Zahilas presented the case of international sectoral qualifications. While the national models for developing, maintaining and reviewing vocational qualifications still stands strong, and is seen as crucial for developing high quality and relevant qualifications, a parallel tendency towards internationalisation of qualifications is observed.

WorldSkills’ Jenny Shackleton discussed experiences drawn from the WorldSkills competition with regard to the setting of standards for vocational skills. Ms Shackleton reported on a significant change in perspective, where a focus on ‘speed and accuracy’ has been replaced by a broader view also emphasising the wider context in which vocational skills are developed and applied. She stressed that VET’s purpose should not be to train ‘robots’, but to allow for the combination of occupation-specific and transversal, broader skills and competences.

European Commission’s Director of Skills Policy Detlef Eckert closed the event.