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'Training, employment and social policy must be examined in a holistic way'

Aviana Bulgarelli, who is leaving Cedefop on 15 October, talks about the changes in the European training landscape during her five years as Director, and what she will be taking with her from her European experience.

You have been Director of Cedefop since 2005. During your tenure, the Lisbon Strategy came to an end, to be replaced by Europe 2020. Europe also faced an unprecedented economic and financial crisis. What have these developments meant for Cedefop’s work?

If you look closely at the differences between the Lisbon Strategy and the Europe 2020 strategy you’ll see an extraordinary change of approach in our field, in learning.

The Lisbon strategy’s main objectives were to strengthen and modernise education and training systems. In Europe 2020 the approach has become “let’s develop the right skills for new and changing jobs”. Of course the way to do this is to develop modern education and training systems - but the orientation is toward the outcome, not the process. This represents a general change of approach in Europe, and the crisis has really pushed it to the forefront. What’s important is not the system per se; it’s the impact of the system. The crisis has stepped up the turn towards this outcomes-based approach.

So yes, all this has affected Cedefop’s work, but mostly as an affirmation of the direction in which we had already been going. Cedefop has long examined vocational education and training and social policy in a holistic way and it’s been at the vanguard of the outcomes-based approach. We have taken a pragmatic view of training in conjunction with employment, and have shaped our own work accordingly: it is now focused on providing hard evidence to underpin policy. And by the way, we’ve taken this approach across the board, including in our performance management system, which evaluates our work in terms of outcomes and impact. So Europe 2020 is very interesting from this point of view. It’s not a change of goal for Europe, but looks at this goal from a different angle.

Cedefop has been part of this process every step of the way. We are happy to see that not only our evidence and analyses but also our motto has been adopted in the new strategy. This is rare for an organisation that does not make policy, that provides technical support to policy. It’s very gratifying to see that your work is useful.

This goes beyond our work on skills and on anticipating the changing content of occupations. Our conceptual work on the European Qualifications Framework and Europass has become the cornerstone of these two new tools, both of which have been widely accepted and adopted.

Starting in 2009, Cedefop was also asked to monitor the ways in which each Member State is coping with the crisis. We are doing this through our policy analysis, which helps us see in which direction Europe is moving. The information we provide here is crucial for policy making, especially as it flags potential gaps – such as whether the school dropout level is falling or rising, what is the right training for the green economy, whether companies are providing enough continuing training for their (older) workers, etc.

If you could single out one achievement from your five years at Cedefop, what would it be?

In terms of policy, I would say our skills and competence analysis: the forecasts, the learning outcomes approach - all that was taken on board in Europe 2020 and in several other policy decisions. I’d say that’s been our most outstanding contribution, including in terms of the public interest it has attracted.

On the organisational side, we have improved accountability, financial transparency and performance management. The reputation of Cedefop is now very strong, in terms of both capacity and authority. I feel that I am leaving Cedefop in a good condition.

I’m also leaving it good hands! The acting Director, as of mid-October, will be Deputy Director Christian Lettmayr, whose commitment and cooperation have been very important factors of our success.

Why did you choose to turn down the Commission’s offer of a second five-year contract?

Well, it was actually a very difficult decision - it took me a few months to decide!

It’s a mix of reasons. One reason is that I received another very interesting offer, to head ISFOL in Italy. I will miss the international environment – to be precise, the richness of working in an international setting with staff and stakeholders from many different nationalities. On the other hand, I look forward to working at the national level, in a field that to a certain extent corresponds to Cedefop’s mandate in Europe: ISFOL is the Italian agency for vocational education and training, but also for employment and social policy.

What attracts me is the prospect of working in an organisation that combines these subjects, which in any case I believe should be examined together. So this will be a great challenge. In addition to professional reasons, I am also moving for a better quality of my personal life. Let’s just say that I will travel much less for private reasons from now on....

What do you expect to bring to ISFOL from the rich international environment you describe?

Well, ISFOL already has a European vision of VET, employment and social policy, but I believe I can enhance it. Also, I will bring a greater capacity for learning from different approaches and making the best use of them. Working with international staff and stakeholders means that you need to give yourself time to observe and interpret, to make sure that you find the right balance between different needs. And that’s important for both professional and personal development.

Conversely, when I came to Cedefop I brought with me a heightened sense of what policy-making is like in a Member State. That is why I steered the Centre toward focusing on providing evidence which contributes to policy-making. There is always something new to bring, and new to learn.

Interview by Ioánna Nezi


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