To address the issue of skill shortages in European businesses, ‘we need to move towards work-based learning and quality apprenticeships, eliminate as much as possible inequalities in training and attract non-trained workers,’ Cedefop Director James Calleja told the European Business Forum on Vocational Training (23-24 September), in Brussels.

Speaking at a roundtable discussion, Mr Calleja argued that ‘Europe still has a long way to go in order to bridge the gap between available skills in the workforce and skills needed by European companies.’

He noted that the low image of vocational education and training (VET) can lead to the offer of bad working conditions, adding: ‘Labour market today lacks technical skills, people with work experience and soft skills (together with the so-called transversal skills). Lack of skills leads to unfavourable working conditions and therefore education and training are key to every person’s quality of life.’

Mr Calleja stressed that ‘many adults (46%) do not participate in training and do not intend to do so; this is a worrying factor and one which discourages SMEs from creating small working environments.’

According to the Cedefop Director, ‘teacher/trainer training is important if we are to work together towards a higher-skilled Europe. Employers need to see skill development as an integral part of their business strategy, but education needs to attract businesses especially in the governance of VET programmes.’

Mr Calleja concluded making four points:

  • work environments are also learning environments and therefore should be licensed to award qualifications;
  • traditional  initial VET  and continuing VET are shrinking when compared to lifelong learning VET;
  • sectoral qualifications are increasingly important in a competitive labour market economy;
  • businesses have a governing role to play in early IVET/CVET, and education should continue to open its doors to allow the employment culture to seep into its structures. 

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso addressed the conference through a video message in which he stressed the importance of VET to meet the challenge of youth unemployment, especially skills mismatch.

Representing Commissioner Vassiliou, DG EAC’s Director General Xavier Prats Monné said that linking education and work is imperative at a time when there are over 2 million unfilled job vacancies and almost 25 million unemployed people in EU28: ‘Even a sound education does not guarantee anyone a job, let alone lack of basic and sectoral skills. We need to improve the quality of VET, raise visibility of work-based learning and work towards making young people employable throughout their lifetime.’

Maxime Cerutti (BusinessEurope) stated that his organisation has started a Europe-wide research project on costs/benefits of apprenticeships because they can truly develop a new and attractive image of VET. Mikael Andersson (EVTA) argued that all economic problems land on the lap of training providers: ‘We need to share resources with industry, work towards integrated learning and create a new language between SMEs and VET providers.’

European Commission’s Antonio Silva Mendes stressed the need to strengthen quality, supply and image of apprenticeships throughout Europe. He spoke about the milestones of the European alliance for apprenticeships, including Cedefop’s conference and country reviews, the Member States’ response to the alliance and the youth guarantee.

At another roundtable discussion, on how businesses can invest in VET, the Cedefop Director focused on the need to consider education and employment as a single initiative in a permanent partnership arrangement: ‘Neither education nor employment can afford to live separately. They are interdependent on vital issues of skills, competences, work experience, VET curriculum, apprenticeships/work-based learning and qualifications.’

Although research evidence illustrates that large, medium and small enterprises train their workers (93%, 81% and 63% respectively), both VET schools and workplaces need to increase visibility of each other. ‘This can be done in various ways but it is time to “go micro” and ensure that action is taken quickly at national, regional and local levels,’ said Mr Calleja.