Georgios Zisimos interview: the European Pillar of Social Rights and the ETF
Europe has already adopted significant measures to advance its European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR), but there is still much to do to build a stronger Continent by 2030. Live & Learn* catches up with Georgios Zisimos, Head of the ETF’s Unit for Policy Advice, in his Cyprus family home, to ask him about the EPSR and how it links with the ETF’s work.
“It is clear that the EPSR is important because not many EU policies continue so strongly from one leadership to the next,” says Zisimos. “It was initially advanced by Junker, and is at the forefront for von der Leyen, and it has a lot of support that goes beyond the leadership. It came out of the Gothenburg Summit in 2017, which sought to establish a plan for a strong social Europe that is fair, inclusive and provides opportunities for its citizens; it is important internally for the EU, but also externally.”
The EPSR defines three broad areas of action - equal opportunities and access to the labour market, social protection and inclusion, and fair working conditions - and these areas incorporate 20 principles and rights; could you give us an overview of the ETF’s role in these areas?
“It is predominantly involved in the first area, related to the labour market, which includes education, training and life long learning; gender equality; equal opportunities and active support to employment. The ETF, as per its mandate to support human capital development, is focused on those principles.”
The ETF ‘projects’
Specifically, Zisimos explains that the ETF works in eight projects, or broad thematic areas, and highlights each in order to explain how they relate to the EPSR.
“Firstly, we carry out assessments of countries’ or regions’ skills requirements on the demand side. In some cases this work looks into skills needs for specific sectors. Developing skills in particular countries could be beneficial for the countries, the region and the EU. Secondly, we work on labour market policy, which directly links with the EPSR. Not all policies have a direct international dimension and so the ETF frequently has to interpret and analyse what those policies mean in different contexts in the partner countries. We work with 29 countries across four regions so, for example, in the central Asia region we plan to focus on youth employability with digitilisation and gender dimensions, which are key elements of the Social Pillar.”
Zisimos next turns to the ETF’s work on qualifications, and supporting countries develop their own frameworks, which links in with mobility, and potentially, European qualifications. “In sub-Sahara, for example, we have been working on a Continental African qualification framework, which has been very successful. The countries have very different levels and so there is a lot of work to do to make their qualifications relevant to other countries.”
Zisimos is particularly proud of the ETF’s focus on the social inclusion dimension. “Our fourth project is to look at centres of excellence, such as schools that work, for example, with business, research organisations, industry, and communities, and identify those that have state-of-the-art equipment, VET training for their teachers, are better governed, have autonomy, and so on. We have over 240 centres that we connect via a ‘network for excellence’ across different countries and member states. Centres of excellence from different countries like Turkey, Ukraine, Israel, and in sub-Saharan Africa work together in partnerships to exchange knowledge and experiences in different areas, for example, on social inclusion.”
The challenge relating to this network has increased recently due to the spread of Covid-19. “The pandemic has created a sense of isolation, which has led to a need for more partnerships, so our network has increased from 100 to 250 over the last 18 months. Also ministers often consider any studies done before the pandemic to be very old, so to provide up-to-date studies has added pressure.”
Fifthly, Zisimos explains, the ETF identifies learning innovations in teaching and learning, including, for example, the curriculum, how teachers are trained, how digitilisation happens in school, work based learning, and career guidance. For this purpose, the ETF has recently launched a network of innovators to capture good practice and promote mutual learning.
Another area of work that relates directly to the EPSR is in the area of life-long learning (LLL). “We collect data and work on the labour market side, on the demand for skills – how you meet that demand – and at the same time we identify provision; and part of that is through an LLL perspective. So we are working with different stakeholders and skills providers, but also with the LLL at system level; the two things work in parallel. There is a need for a holistic system that supports education and training from birth to adult education. From our side we make these connections, but mostly we focus on VET. And then there is the bridge between education and the world of work…”
“Finally we work on enterprises and Smart specialisation strategies,” Zisimos continues. “The ETF engages with small enterprises and identifies the skills needed, and how these are linked with Smart specialisation strategies. In the Ukraine, for example, we developed models to identify niche areas for skills development in certain regions. Furthermore, we do content monitoring on how reforms are developing, on behalf of the EU. The ETF is also looking at the issue of brain drain, which is important and has an impact on many member states and partner countries. In this area we work with ‘neighbours of the neighbours’.”
Finally, Zisimos says, the ETF works on governance and quality assurance.
“There is a lot of space for development on the human capital side,” he concludes. “The Pillar is an internal policy of the EU, but it is also very interesting and relevant for countries outside. The ETF seeks to identify what it means for them and the right connections they need to make.”