Speaking to over 1 300 French vocational education and training (VET) stakeholders at the 16th université d’hiver (winter university) event on 30 January in Biarritz, Cedefop Acting Director Mara Brugia focused on the challenges European VET is facing and the policies to overcome them.

‘The challenges faced by national VET systems are very similar: digitalisation and its consequences for the future of work, the environment, ageing societies and social inclusion,’ she said, adding: ‘These challenges call for immediate political responses and comprehensive forward-looking strategies. Even if the political response differs from country to country, common trends have emerged in recent years. For example, initial VET allows progression to higher education, and apprenticeships experience a revival. One of the most striking trends in the European Union (EU) has been the development of VET programmes that correspond to the highest levels – 5 to 8 – of the European qualifications framework. At the same time, however, VET is still second choice in certain countries.’

The Biarritz event was organised by Centre Inffo (Centre for the Development of Information on Continuing Vocational Training), a long-standing partner of Cedefop. It was under the auspices of French President Emanuel Macron whose government has embarked on a VET reform which includes a société des compétences to boost continuing training in the country.

Skill concerns

According to the Cedefop Acting Director, ‘a major concern at European level is the almost 60 million low-skilled EU citizens. Member States have been engaged in an effort to provide flexible pathways corresponding to the needs of each individual with the aim to allow them to reach a basic skill level and/or progress towards upper secondary certification.’

‘At Cedefop,’ she noted, ‘we support the efforts of the Member States through our research activities and experience sharing. Our work has shown that all Member States have in place measures to facilitate the reinforcement and redeployment of skills. However, the main challenge is to group together the offer of services in a coherent and coordinated way.’

Ms Brugia argued that the landscape of adult learning in Europe is quite heterogeneous and tends to be less structured and regulated than initial VET: ‘In an “uberised economy”, people get to be more and more responsible for their own skill development. Skill development must be seen as an interest and responsibility shared between public institutions, employers and employees. This includes a major role for the social partners. Companies must also be proactive and make sure that the working environment allows their employees to develop their skills.’

Looking ahead

As 2020 approaches and we face multiple challenges, policy-makers have started to reflect on the future of VET. Cedefop has looked at past developments and has presented future directions that VET systems could take. ‘Our objective is not to make predictions,’ stated Ms Brugia: ‘We aim to illustrate how political choices can influence VET’s structure, content and results. Last December, these reflections led to a vision of VET post-2020, shared by the government representatives and social partners of all Member States: lifelong, excellent and inclusive.’

In conclusion, Ms Brugia stressed the ‘excellent cooperation’ that Cedefop has always had with France. ‘We will follow with great interest the development of this novel approach,’ she said.

French Minister for Labour Muriel Pénicaud was also among the speakers. She highlighted the need for equal opportunities, which ‘are vital for individuals and economies.’ Referring to the current reform in her country, she said that it has been a long-held aspiration to give continuing VET a boost. ‘A change of culture is necessary; we think that the brain is superior to the hands as if the two couldn't work together,’ noted Ms Pénicaud.