Vocational education and training’s (VET’s) role in the EU’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and in the green and digital transitions was at the heart of the European vocational skills week 2020, the first to be held virtually as a result of the pandemic, between 9 and 13 November.

Over 1 000 events in 38 countries in Europe and beyond have taken place since September with over 3.5 million participants (events and activities).

European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit stated at the launch event: ‘We will recover from this crisis and prepare for the future through vocational education and training. We need skilled people to master the digital and green transitions and VET must be fully integrated in it.

Pact for skills

One of the week’s highlights was the launch of the Pact for skills by Commissioner Schmit and his counterpart for Internal Market Thierry Breton. The pact is a key initiative of the updated European skills agenda, aiming to mobilise resources and give incentives to all relevant stakeholders to take real action to upskill and reskill the workforce.

The two Commissioners announced the first European skills partnerships in key industrial ecosystems – automotive, microelectronics, and aerospace and defence industries.

Cedefop’s input

Cedefop has again been a partner of the European Commission, which organises the week, and its experts took part as speakers or moderators in various sessions.

The agency’s Executive Director Jürgen Siebel said at the main conference on VET excellence for green and digital transitions: ‘VET, and especially continuing VET, should be responsive to the changing labour market needs, but also be much more an essential enabler of innovation, proactivity and resilience. The next decade will also be a decade of VET.’

At the same conference, German Federal Minister for Education and Research Anja Karliczek, co-host of the week as part of the current German EU Presidency, referred to the Osnabrück declaration to modernise European VET and deepen cross-border cooperation, set to be signed on 30 November: ‘We want to use the Osnabrück declaration to develop an innovative and flexible European vocational training sector and a new culture of continuing education. This is a central priority of the German EU Presidency.’

Cedefop’s Jens Bjornavold and Jasper van Loo were involved in the conference’s parallel sessions. Mr Bjornavold presented the role of higher VET in Europe, stressing that ‘higher education is not exclusively about advanced theoretical knowledge, but just as much about advanced practical skills and competences.’ Mr van Loo moderated a session on future skill needs. He noted that 45% of EU adults have the potential for upskilling and reskilling, a figure estimated before the pandemic; the crisis, combined with the twin transitions, will make upskilling and reskilling even more important.

Speaking at a panel discussion organised by the European alliance for apprenticeships, Cedefop’s Stelina Chatzichristou highlighted the important role that apprenticeships can play in the development of green skills, particularly where apprenticeships concern a clear, independent system, with dedicated curricula, programmes and occupational profiles. Effective partnerships and social dialogue, triangulation between the two providers (VET/company) and the learner could further facilitate the delivery of green skills through apprenticeships.

The European perspective of validation of non-formal and informal learning was presented by Cedefop's Ernesto Villalba at a dedicated workshop. Mr Villalba talked about the European inventory on validation and the European guidelines on validating non-formal and informal learning. He stressed that, while validation should be adapted to the individual and have flexibility, it's crucial to have coherence between the different system parts.

Award winners

The week celebrations closed with the VET excellence award ceremony. Commissioner Schmit said: ‘This ceremony closes a fascinating week that showcased what vocational education and training has to offer. Participants have demonstrated that VET can be innovative. That it can be a bridge to the new digital and green world of work. Together, we will keep working to promote vocational education and training, and to make it more agile, digital and accessible to workers of all ages and throughout their whole life. We will keep making clear that VET is a unique path to employment.’

The Commissioner announced the award winners, including for #CedefopPhotoAward 2020. A team from Greece scooped the top prize following an online vote. The Digital & Green Waves team consisted of VET learners Eleni Fransizi, Eleftheria-Giannoula Sokolaki, Eleftheria Pigka and Sofia Tsochataridou, and their tutor Theofilos Stupiadis – all from the 2nd VET School of Thessaloniki, OAED.

The graphic designers-to-be captured their notion of green in their photostory:

‘For us, “green” is family and friends who give colour to our days; it’s recalling precious moments and emotions; it’s joy and dance, smiles and passions. It is a person, nostalgia, chaos and inaction. Our ‘green’ is Art. Our common stimulus is our interaction with nature. Mother nature inspires our life and is a major part of our reality.’

Focus on continuing VET

At their regular meeting during the week, in the context of the EU Presidency cycle, the Directors General for VET discussed the array of new initiatives and programmes launched during 2020.

Speaking at the meeting, Cedefop Executive Director Jürgen Siebel said that helping EU Member States, their enterprises and citizens drive and survive the digital and green transitions and to overcome the coronavirus crisis requires upskilling and reskilling at an unprecedented scale.

Training systems for adults struggle to reach out to large parts of the population and to provide the right opportunities. We need a systematic approach to lifelong skill development, sustained by well-functioning continuing VET systems, he added.

We appreciate the Osnabrück Declaration — it has certainly matured over the last couple of months, and we are grateful that Cedefop was asked to actively contribute, providing scientific evidence and expertise. We are also proud that our conference in June/July, co-hosted with our sister agency ETF, was one cornerstone of the discussions leading to this final draft, concluded Mr Siebel