Individual Learning Accounts: making lifelong learning a reality

Addressing the challenge of reskilling and upskilling at scale and making lifelong learning accessible in practice to all citizens regardless of their labour market status were the focus of a  High Level Forum on individual learning accounts organised on 4-5 March 2021 by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.

The digital and green transitions are transforming the world of work, and working lives are becoming longer and less predictable. Never has the need been greater for people to continue learning throughout their lives. However, less than 40% of European adults participate in further learning according to the latest statistics. And these are predominantly people who already have the highest skills. Only one in two Europeans have basic digital skills. 

“The right to lifelong learning is not only a European social and fundamental right ensuring fairness, but a smart economic investment in light of the important skills gaps in our labour markets” said Nicholas Schmit, EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, in his opening address.

Three out of four employers report difficulty in finding candidates with the right skills, and a similar proportion claim that finding workers with the right skills is holding back growth. European countries devote 4.6% of GDP to formal education and training for young people, but only 0.5% in developing skills for adults.

Employers currently provide 90% of continuing training. Over half of people employed by large companies participate in learning every year, but only one in three employees of microenterprises and only one in four unemployed people do so. This leaves a gap for the growing number of self-employed and platform workers, as well as for workers who need to retrain in the face of professional transitions. “Individual learning entitlements, such as Individual learning accounts, can make the right to lifelong learning tangible to each and every one and serve as a tool to facilitate cost-sharing between all stakeholders” said Commissioner Schmit. 

Funding is not the only challenge; design is a key success factor. How to ensure costs are shared fairly amongst stakeholders, how to ensure the quality of training and its responsiveness to labour market needs, how to ensure access to guidance so people make the right training choices, how to ensure that people, especially the lowest skilled, have scope and motivation to make use of their training entitlements? These were among the issued discussed with reference to experience from around the world.

The conference gave pride of place to the experience of France and Singapore, which have the longest-established systems of this kind. It also considered the Dutch experience of individual learning budgets, the Slovak learning vouchers scheme, and the Danish and Luxembourgish systems of training leave rights.

The context of the High Level Forum was the recent publication of the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, which sets an ambitious target of at least 60% of adults participating in learning each year by 2030. Learning entitlements schemes are seen as a potential means of achieving this target. The European Commission is conducting an external study and plans to launch a public consultation in April with a view to coming forward with a proposal on individual learning entitlements at the end of 2021.

“This conference is not about proposing a European one-size-fits-all model of Individual Learning Accounts” said Joost Korte, European Commission Director General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, in his closing remarks. “It is about learning from each other, from each other’s successes and also from each other’s failures.”

“We are all wrestling with the same challenge: how do we ensure that all adults have the opportunity to keep building the skills they need” he said. “The digital and green transitions and the disruption of labour markets generated by Covid 19 make this one of the greatest challenges of our time.”


Did you like this article? If you would like to be notified when new content like this is published, subscribe to receive our email alerts.