Ideas and plans that will support Cedefop's policy work on vocational training for the long-term unemployed were devised, presented and discussed at a two-day policy learning forum on 15 and 16 June in Thessaloniki.

Cedefop Director James Calleja announced that an online database of upskilling and matching policies is being prepared and will be live in 2018.

Opening the forum, Cedefop Head of Department for Skills and Labour Market Pascaline Descy called the event ‘the culmination of the agency’s research on skill mismatch since 2008.’

The fifth policy learning forum organised by Cedefop in the past two years, this new format allows for more interaction with, and engagement by participants, and learning from what individual countries do.

The 70 participants were involved in preparing ideas and plans to get the long-term unemployed back to work and to prevent more people from becoming part of this unwanted statistic.

In 2015, there were almost 4 million more European citizens out of work for over a year compared to 2007. Although employment growth has recently somewhat improved, in 2015 nearly half of the jobless in the EU were long-term unemployed, i.e. almost 11 million people. Close to two-thirds of them (6.8 million) had been out of work for over two years.

As Ms Descy said, ‘we need smarter and more effective policies for training the long-term unemployed in this climate of austerity.’

Cedefop experts Konstantinos Pouliakas and Jasper van Loo, two of the forum organisers, discussed learning from practice in vocational education and training (VET) for the long-term unemployed, including innovative elements of European Union matching skills policies.

They stressed that long-term unemployment rates vary greatly among countries and that, during periods of crisis, people with low skills are at greater risk of long-term unemployment, as the agency’s European skills and jobs survey has shown. The survey also found that the long-term unemployed are more likely to go back to low-skill work; lack of opportunities to develop their skills renders their return to work unsustainable.

Intervention areas

The conditions in which a ‘train-first’ is more beneficial than a ‘work-first’ approach were discussed during the event, as were intervention areas to strengthen the impact of policies, introduced to participants by Cedefop expert Stelina Chatzichristou, the third forum organiser. Intervention areas include: optimising cooperation and coordination, exploring the potential of ICT, promoting sustainable job matches, balancing in-house provision and outsourcing, and using European education and training tools.

Renowned labour market expert and former OECD Director John P. Martin gave evidence of activation and active labour market policy effectiveness in OECD countries, and spoke about future challenges. He said that activation strategies support career progression and gave examples of countries where they have worked (Australia, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, UK) or failed (Finland, Ireland, Slovenia). Some countries, such as Spain, Portugal and Greece, have only paid lip service to activation, he added.

Inspiring examples

Thirteen inspiring case studies from across Europe were presented in the forum. They included: competence-based training and matching from Flanders in Belgium, the ‘be a producer’ project from Greece, on-the-job training to increase self-confidence for people with an average age of 40 from the Municipality of Amsterdam, vouchers for VET, upskilling and non-formal programmes from Latvia, and skills validation from Romania’s public employment service.

On both days, participants worked at theme tables in the world café and the assembly line, prepared plans and presented them to an expert panel.

In his closing speech, Mr Calleja said that ‘we should marry the fight against long-term unemployment with lifelong learning, using competence-based matching tools and modularised-training.’

He encouraged participants to become multipliers of Cedefop’s work on fighting long-term unemployment.