At a meeting of the European Economic and Social Committee’s (EESC’s) Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, on 13 February in Brussels, Cedefop Acting Director Mara Brugia shared the agency’s key achievements in 2018 and priorities for 2019.

Eurofound Director Juan Menéndez-Valdés presented his agency’s work. Participants included Cedefop Governing Board Chair Tatjana Babrauskiene and Vice Chair Gerhard Riemer, who are both also members of the EESC.

Ms Brugia argued that investing in people’s skills will remain high on the European policy agenda post-2020, adding that vocational education and training (VET) ‘has a vital role to play if we want our economy to prosper but also to ensure that the first principle of the social rights pillar does not remain empty words: that everyone has the right to quality and inclusive education, training and lifelong learning.’

Our work has contributed to both, which shows that being proactive and forward-looking has paid off, she said, noting also that Cedefop’s new regulation ‘reflects an understanding that VET has become broader to include skills and qualifications and that it bridges education and training and the labour market.’

Cedefop priorities

In her presentation, Ms Brugia focused on three thematic areas: future of work and skills; future of VET; and empowering people.

She said that Cedefop’s EU-wide skill supply and demand forecast for 2030 confirms the expected growth in the service sector, a more polarised occupational structure and jobs that require more autonomy, higher level ICT, and more interpersonal skills. Projections also highlight issues such as the expected comparatively fast growth of workers with high-level qualifications; and, thus, the risk that many people may not have the opportunity to fully use their skills if current labour demand trends continue.

Cedefop also decided to explore the feasibility of an EU-level real-time information system using big data; it developed a prototype and in March will release a first set of data for seven countries. Next year, findings will be available for all Member States.

How digitalisation impacts on skills development, obsolescence and mismatch is a theme examined from different perspectives, including Cedefop’s collaboration with Eurofound on the European Company Survey.

We also need to understand, Ms Brugia noted, how EU crowd workers develop their skills and how these are recognised. This is the objective of Cedefop’s crowd-learn study. Study outcomes will be discussed at a seminar in Brussels later this year in cooperation with the Finnish EU Presidency.

Cedefop has identified three main directions VET systems may take, including expansion of work-based learning and apprenticeships, diversification of learning provision (and providers) together with more individualised learning pathways and a growing role of skills training to include early school-leavers and low-qualified adults. These trends were discussed at Cedefop’s conference which was the centrepiece of the European vocational skills week under the Austrian EU Presidency. Study outcomes will feed the ongoing policy discourse on VET post-2020.

In a fast-changing labour market, supporting the design and implementation of VET policies that can empower people to fulfil their potential is at the core of Cedefop’s work. Over the past years, said Ms Brugia, we completed apprenticeship reviews in eight countries; and we developed a programme including policy learning forums to provide all participating countries with opportunities for information exchanges, mutual learning and policy benchmarking.

A recent cross-country comparative review of apprenticeships in Europe covered all EU Member States, Iceland and Norway. Data from the review are now accessible online in a comprehensive database, which has marked the start of a new Cedefop community of apprenticeship experts.

Helping to ensure that Europe’s 60 million low-skilled adults are not left behind represents a key priority, concluded Ms Brugia: ‘Currently we are investigating the potential of work-based learning for upskilling adults. This study runs in parallel to our policy learning activities in this area, which are an excellent example of the fruitful cooperation between our organisations.’

Participants showed their appreciation of the presentations and congratulated the two agencies on their work.