Human Capital Development in focus at Western Balkans Platforms ministerial meeting

A ministerial meeting of the Western Balkans Platforms on Education and Training & Research and Innovation today brought together, in an online dialogue, key stakeholders from the European Union and Western Balkans region under the auspices of the German Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, presented the long-term cooperation strategy of the European Union and the Western Balkans: the 'Western Balkans Agenda on Innovation, Research, Education, Culture, Youth and Sport' which was discussed by the responsible Ministers from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia.

The Agenda supports the objectives of the 2020 Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans to enhance human capital development for a knowledge-based society, innovation ecosystem and sustainable economy in the region.  

‘Human capital development must be at the centre of policy decisions with targeted innovative efforts for the upskilling and reskilling of the workforce' said the ETF Director, Cesare Onestini, in his keynote address.

'Education, particularly vocational education and training, is fundamental to ensure all citizens have access to skills development opportunities as they need to adapt to a changing socioeconomic environment and labour market conditions' continued Mr Onestini.

The signing up of the Western Balkans Six to the EU digital and green agenda has heightened the level of awareness on the skills issue and its impact. The urgency of the skills supply in the Western Balkans region, as highlighted by the ETF's Torino Process, has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘The acceleration in the shift towards digital and online solutions has been a positive factor during the pandemic but social inequalities have nevertheless been deepening due to issues of access, quality and labour market relevance of education and training’, said Onestini. 'Lessons must be learnt from what did not work during the pandemic' he added.

The pandemic created distinct problems for the organisation of practical training in vocational education and training which needs overcoming to ensure young people in particular are prepared for the transition to the green and digital economy. Moreover, reforms of VET such as the participation of adults in continuous VET programmes have been delayed due to the pandemic.

'Let’s put focus also on older workers and the need to embrace lifelong approaches to training and reskilling’, said the ETF Director who then concluded his presentation by highlighting the ETF’s work on fostering innovative approaches to skills development through various initiatives such as the Centres for VET Excellence, Creating New Learning and Skills Lab. The ETF has also produced a recent report, Unlocking youth potential in South Eastern Europe and Turkey provides evidence to build policy responses.

* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.

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