‘Expanding work-based learning to make vocational education and training (VET) more attractive requires employer engagement,’ said Cedefop Director James Calleja at a workshop on the role of the New skills agenda for Europe in skills development and employability, on 8 September in Brussels. 

Only around one in seven of all upper-secondary VET students are in a course combining school and work-based learning, including apprenticeships in Europe.

The skills agenda aims to make VET a first choice by improving work-based learning for all. For that to happen, Mr Calleja believes that employers must see it as part of a strategy to meet their changing skill needs: ‘Around 53% of adult employees in the EU need to learn new things continuously. Good jobs develop good skills and employers are educators.’

At the workshop, which was organised by the European Parliament, European Commission’s DG Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion Director General Michel Servoz presented the key actions of the new skills agenda, while other speakers focused on the skills guarantee and the revisions of the European qualifications framework and Europass.

Various measures have been taken at European and national levels to raise VET attractiveness. Mr Calleja gave examples: ‘Many countries, including Belgium, Germany, Cyprus, Poland and Italy, have made changes to enable smooth access to higher education through the VET route. More than half of EU Member States organise campaigns to attract young people to VET, including TV campaigns in Denmark and Greece. Skill competitions are also held.’

Work has also been done to improve VET’s quality and recognition, and to increase its labour market relevance and in turn the employability and job opportunities of VET students.

Work-based learning commitment

The European Commission, Member States and social partners recommitted themselves to expanding work-based learning in Riga in July 2015. With good reason, argues Mr Calleja, as evidence indicates that VET that combines school and work-based learning can improve employment prospects.

In 2014, Cedefop’s European skills and jobs survey looked at skill mismatch among adult employees across the EU. The survey found that people whose studies involved work-based learning are not only more likely to find a job, but to find a better, more skill-intensive job. In countries that combine school and work-based learning, youth unemployment tends to be below the EU average.

Future jobs will combine technical and behavioural skills. Mr Calleja noted that ‘a combination of such skills is more likely to be developed through work-based learning; but, currently, only around 25% of enterprises in the EU offer apprenticeships.’

The European alliance for apprenticeships is about creating partnerships and Member States learning from each other. Cedefop has carried out apprenticeship reviews in several Member States at their request, including Lithuania, Malta, Italy, Slovenia and Greece.

According to Mr Calleja, ‘these reviews have helped identify new forms of cooperation between governments, employers and unions in managing education and training systems; the status of VET and apprenticeships in countries without strong traditions in these areas is being changed.’

Cedefop’s knowledge, generated through research and analysis, supports VET reform and a role is foreseen for the agency in helping to implement the skills guarantee.

Read Mr Calleja’s full presentation here.