Lifelong learning and skills development are not optional for citizens, workplaces and societies in a rapidly and dramatically changing world. They are essential to innovate economies and societies and exploit the green and digital transitions, prepare people for the continuous changes they ca...
Lifelong learning and skills development are not optional for citizens, workplaces and societies in a rapidly and dramatically changing world. They are essential to innovate economies and societies and exploit the green and digital transitions, prepare people for the continuous changes they can expect to their work, lives and the world around them. Upskilling and reskilling, active labour market measures for youth employment, or measures to ensure fair labour migration are just some of the ways which we present in this month's edition of Learning Connects to ensure the development of skills are fit for purpose in a transforming world.
Moreover, personal, social and technical skills are needed to keep pace and interpret the world around us so that no one is left behind or alienated, which is especially important at a time when democratic processes are under threat through misinformation and disinformation; support inclusion especially for the disadvantaged and vulnerable; support and sustain national and local economies through skills development and labour market access within a globalised world and help avoid brain drain.
Drawing upon the EU's strategic and policy priorities for skills development, which have received an added impetus with 2023 being declared the European Year of Skills, the ETF is engaging with countries in the EU's neighbouring regions to support them in their education and training system reform efforts. Policy advice and targeted actions in response to countries needs, such as support for innovating the education and training curricula, the recognition of qualifications, the professional development of teachers and trainers, work-based learning arrangements, labour market research and analysis, support for social dialogue and good governance, and networks for good practice sharing and peer learning such as the Innovative Educators and the ETF Network of Excellence, are ways in which the ETF is delivering its mandate. Regular gathering of skills intelligence through system level monitoring and evaluation of policy reform through the Torino Process and other frameworks, and support for policy adaptation, underscore all ETF actions.
This edition of Learning Connects begins with insights from a recent live discussion on the challenges and opportunities presented by the digitalisation of work. Good practice examples, minimum standards, and ways to integrate digitalisation into national skills strategies are just some of the highlights. This is followed by highlights from a similar event on the importance of engaging teachers in social dialogue to manage the green and digital transitions within education and training systems.
Other topics explored and guided by the expertise of ETF specialists include the importance of skills for innovation and technology transfer, and how to ensure EU labour migration is a success for migrants and sending and receiving countries based on the latest developments.
Be sure to review the ‘4 facts’ on the European Year of Skills and check out ‘What’s on in May' so that you can join the discussions and steps to ensure education and skills development is abreast of the changes in the world around us.
Platform work: the future of employment?
“The changing nature of work: ensuring everyone benefits” is a recent ETF online event that focused on four elements of this ever-evolving topic...
“The changing nature of work: ensuring everyone benefits” is a recent ETF online event that focused on four elements of this ever-evolving topic: how digital developments affect employment relationships; the benefits of new forms of work; how to reconcile labour flexibility, skills and social protection; and best practice.
What are the trends?
The world can be largely defined by a handful of overarching megatrends, explained Iwona Ganko, ETF Human Capital Development Expert. She mentioned globalisation, geopolitics, demographic shifts and climate change. “The biggest one that influences our way of working and learning is digitalisation,” she said. “It impacts practically everyone. It engenders greater flexibility in working relationships and new business models, indeed the work and its future has changed dramatically."
What are the benefits?
Many people may see change as a threat, but there are indeed “positive examples”, noted Tanja Jakobi, Executive Director of the Public Policy Research Centre Belgrade, Serbia. “This is a window of opportunity in many senses,” she said. “Especially for young, well-educated workers from Serbia and our region.” Their skills extend beyond the needs of relatively backward local firms, so national employers have no need for them. International accords have facilitated agreements between these people and foreign clients.
Research with both remote and on-location platform workers “shows that they really value flexibility”, added Branka Andjelkovic, Co-founder, Public Policy Research Centre Belgrade, Serbia. They talk about “being your own boss”, but that “flexibility is very limited,” she argued.
Platform workers are typically independent contractors, but they are still beholden to their clients.
Funda Ustek-Spilda, Post-doctoral Researcher and Project Manager, Fairwork, Oxford Internet Institute, agreed that people like “being their own boss”. But one informant provided a quote that struck her as important, and which became the title for a paper: “Just because you don't see your boss doesn't mean you don't have a boss.”
Independent contractors do not have disability coverage or unemployment insurance. They pay their own taxes, and, in many jurisdictions, they are responsible for their own retirement savings. Since they are not employees, they are not guaranteed a minimum wage. They “ultimately lack the traditional employment protections and benefits that come with full-time jobs”, said Andjelkovic.
“They earn very decent amounts,” she added, but noted that “this can change.”
In addition, platform workers often rely on algorithms to channel work to them. These might be based on elements such as reliability or customer satisfaction ratings. New workers might find themselves at a disadvantage. One of Andjelkovic’s favourite quotes is, “It takes time for an algorithm to start loving you.”
Even if people are independent contractors with flexible schedules, “this doesn't mean that they can't have minimum standards of fairness,” said Ustek-Spilda. Her organisation has stipulated five such standards:
fair working conditions,
The idea is “to establish basic minimums for understanding and evaluating work practices on platforms”, she said. “This is, of course, not everything.” She advocates more regulation and analysis of “operational models”, “management styles” and algorithms.
Based on the above-listed categories, her organisation establishes an annual league table ranking platforms as best (or worst) at treating their collaborators. But it doesn’t stop there. An “interactive” follow-up process is designed to help platform companies to improve working conditions. Companies are advised about how they can do better.
“Just because work is increasingly happening through digitally-mediated platforms, it doesn't mean that we need to let go of the rights established in the last century,” said Ustek-Spilda.
Based primarily on audience questions, a number of tangential ideas emerged. Here are a few:
“Digital savviness is very important in daily life,” said Ganko. “But there is a risk in focusing on digital skills. We need to look at the broader portfolio.” These may include skills related to communication, entrepreneurship, problem solving, career management and more. “We need responsible citizens to help solve global problems like, for example, climate change.”
This includes, but extends beyond, the concept of e-governance, which Serbia and other countries have been promoting. E-governance essentially refers to the online administration of interactions between citizens and public agencies.
If it can be done online, should it?
The Covid pandemic lockdowns pushed sundry practices online at breakneck speed. The discussion during the event raised the question of whether some services might be better moved back offline. “There are a lot of examples from the medical industry or education,” noted Ustek-Spilda. “For some jobs, while the work can be performed online, that doesn't mean that it is as effective.”
Teach your children well
The prize for the most popular question went to the person who asked: “What is a parent to do?” In this ever-changing world, with a dichotomy between high-level and low-level work, how should parents help steer their children into the best possible career paths?
It was a surprise question, but there were no lack of responses.
“It seems to me that parents are getting more involved in schooling, at least in Serbia, through digital means,” said Jakobi. “They can track how their children are doing. And I think they may have more rights or opportunities to express their concerns.”
She added, “Of course, not all the jobs are well paid. Parents can guide their children, but we need to look at the labour market.” Ganko advocated the addition of professional career guidance.
Noting that many stereotypically low-skilled jobs, such as hairdressing, in fact, require high-level skills, albeit not necessarily high levels of formal education. “I would say that there are no low-level skills,” she said.
Build skills for innovation and technology transfer - ETF expert Jan Peter Ganter De Otero tells us why
Rarely do people from the realms of skills development and technology transfer get together.
“They do not communicate well,” says Jan Peter ...
Rarely do people from the realms of skills development and technology transfer get together.
“They do not communicate well,” says Jan Peter Ganter De Otero, ETF Human Capital Development Expert and Country Liaison officer for Bosnia and Herzegovina. “They are not well integrated.”
“Every innovation policy expert will tell you that universities are the main players, however, by this we mean there are multiple actors, including vocational education organisations, teachers, students and graduates, who need to be considered. Bringing vocational education to this discussion is part of the ETF's core business.”
The ETF is known for vocational education and training (VET) and skills development, but in an increasingly complex world its areas of expertise cannot easily be separated from wider issues such as human capital development and labour market trends. This is also true when it comes to technology transfer and innovation.
The technology transfer endeavour draws on the ETF's experience with smart specialisation, a place-based concept that examines the scientific and innovation assets and resources of particular territories. “We have methodologies that focus on the development of skills and competences among workers and students to improve the capacity for innovation,” says Ganter De Otero.
There are several ways to help countries and companies improve their abilities and capacities to seek and absorb technology transfer opportunities. The first and most obvious would have to be employees and/or consultants who can implement the adoption of new techniques on site.
Before that, it is essential to have those who can identify prospects and facilitate technology adoption. Not only do you need “people who would implement the technologies, but you also need very specialised people to identify which technologies are most necessary and available”, explains Ganter De Otero. This would include, for instance, professionals who understand and promote intellectual property and licensing.
For example, in the Western Balkans, one of the priority regions in which the ETF works, there literally might be just a handful of people who can operate in this realm – as technology transfer officers for an institution, innovation or technology managers for companies, and the like. “These are very specific profiles,” emphasises Ganter De Otero. “You will find a very low number of people employed in these positions. Yet, despite the small number of people employed in these positions, their work is crucial to develop scientific and innovation capacity in the region," he adds.
Perhaps differently than most people might think, they do not come from the same backgrounds. “You don't need to be an engineer to be an innovation manager,” continues Ganter De Otero. “You don't need to be tech savvy. You need to understand how innovation processes work.”
“We don't usually find bachelor degrees in innovation management,” said Ganter De Otero. Instead, qualification involves the upskilling of people of many backgrounds. People from “many different profiles can become innovation managers, or innovation experts”.
To ensure they do not miss out on essential funding to enhance innovation countries, companies, institutions and individuals need to focus on creating the expertise and experts who can make it happen. At the very least, you need people to write the grant proposals.
The countries of the Western Balkans region tend not to rank high on international measures of innovation and related investment. Yet, there is room for more innovation supporting initiatives such as Horizon and Erasmus+ through what Ganter De Otero calls a “feedback cycle”, whereby more people with the right innovation and technology transfer expertise create the conditions that lead to greater funding.
“We see interest from ETF partner countries about innovation,” he said. “Understanding the importance of public and systematic interventions with a very clear ecosystem perspective including many actors, not only universities and not only companies, is a growing trend across the European continent and beyond.”
As an agency of the European Union operating within the EU's external relations to enhance human capital development, the ETF's work supports partner countries in the EU's neighbouring regions in their reform efforts. The ETF's work also supports and informs the European Commission's country and regional programming. “We are sharing experience and expertise on EU-led policies like smart specialisation and technology transfer based on the countries' specific needs and requests. This is an area where demand is growing,” concludes Ganter De Otero.
Who are the winners of labour migration? Insights from ETF expert, Ummuhan Bardak
In 2021 there were 23.7 million migrants in the EU, some 5.3% of the total population. According to Eurostat’s first-time residence permit ...
In 2021 there were 23.7 million migrants in the EU, some 5.3% of the total population. According to Eurostat’s first-time residence permit statistics in 2021, 20% of third-country nationals held residence permits for work reasons.
The ETF's Senior Human Capital Development Expert on skills demand analysis, Ummuhan Bardak, gives us some insight into the skills dimension of migration, the risks and opportunities, and conditions needed to ensure migrants, sending and receiving countries are all winners.
Over the past decade, there has been a steady rise in the employment of migrant workers in the EU. These workers have mainly been employed in sectors like accommodation and food, domestic and personal services, construction, transport, and agriculture. Increasingly, migrant workers are also undertaking roles in medium- and highly-skilled sectors such as healthcare, and information and communication technology, where the EU is experiencing skills shortages due to a myriad of reasons such as its shrinking and aging population, and skills shortages. Evidence shows that host countries benefit economically from migrant labour whatever their skill level.
To make migration a mutually beneficial process for both the sending and receiving countries, it is important to recognise and use the qualifications and skills of migrant workers. Encouraging their participation in the labour market can lead to positive outcomes for all parties involved. By doing so, we can ensure that the process of migration is fruitful not only for the individuals involved but also for the countries involved.
Ummuhan Bardak explains that:
“Although data on education levels and occupational profiles of migrants is virtually non-existent, it is generally accepted that the traditional skill profiles of most labour migrants to the EU have been at lower level until very recently. This is something both the EU and its Member States want to change, which is one of the agenda items in the European Year of Skills 2023.”
The EU is seeking to attract high-skilled talent to fill skills gaps in specialised sectors, and indeed whilst the numbers of highly skilled migrants are increasing in the EU they are still inferior to those moving to other destination countries and regions around the globe (Canada, US, Australia, etc.).
Critically, Bardak highlights that the European Commission has no role in accepting migrants into the EU which is the remit of Member States. The European Commission is engaged in developing a Europe-wide migration policy and supporting the functioning of the EU labour market and its labour and skill needs.
“Not only is the EU seeking to respond to its skills needs, but it is obvious that immigration will continue to occur anyway and it is in everyone’s interest that this is done more efficiently in a legal and controlled way, even if opinions vary throughout EU Member States on the best means to do this,” Bardak adds.
The issue of attracting migrant talent is of course not confined to the needs of the receiving countries but is an issue of utmost concern to sending countries given that the departure of their most highly skilled citizens represents a loss of public investment and resources that might otherwise contribute and help grow the national economy and society.
This whole idea that one country is losing and the other country is gaining ignores the agency and needs of the individual migrant,” asserts Bardak, “which should be core considerations of any policy efforts or actions to influence migration flow whether low or high skilled in nature.” Individual desire for a good life could be as strong as state policies, so any migration story has three parties involved.
“‘Brain-drain’ can become an issue when the share of the highly skilled which are leaving is greater than those who stay behind and factors such as small and aging populations, longer duration of migration, sector-specific losses, instable socio-political situation can aggravate the situation. It is also difficult to prove given the lack of migration data by education and occupation levels,” says Bardak noting that the term is highly politicized requiring caution in its use and interpretation.
As a recent ETF longitudinal econometric study in the Western Balkans illustrates (‘Use it or lose it!’ How do migration, human capital and the labour market interact in the Western Balkans?), the impact of labour migration varies according to the short, medium and long-term. In the first year there is an obvious exodus of highly skilled people that can be described as ‘brain-drain’, but after five years approximately half of these people will have returned with new knowledge and skills which benefits the home country. The main question the study tried to answer is what would have happened to these people had they not migrated?
The ETF did this by examining the functioning of the labour markets and how the education and training systems are responding to migration trends. What it found is that Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Montenegro all had net migration from 2010 to 2021 with the majority having low to medium levels of education. Albania, however, had 40% of university graduates as emigrants, and Serbia experienced a ‘brain-gain’ by attracting high skilled individuals from neighbouring countries.
By looking at the labour market situation, the ETF observed a high unemployment rate, and underemployment and inactivity, especially of the highly skilled, for example youth unemployment in Kosovo is 49% and in Albania 27%, so it found that the alternative to migration is unemployment, underemployment and skills mismatch.
“Brain waste is worse than brain-drain,” says Bardak, who led the study.
For this reason, one of the EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum main goals regarding ‘skills and talent’ is to ensure ‘fair and circular’ labour migration. It proposes two tools working in cooperation with sending countries. The first is the setting up of an EU talent pool for skilled third-country nationals as a form of international recruitment through which skilled workers could express their interests and be identified by EU migration authorities and companies. The second tool is the launching of Talent Partnerships to help boost better job opportunities and international mobility through legal routes to the EU with interested third countries. For the latter there will be a greater focus on education to support and reinforce investment in local skills with the potential to promote more direct EU investment in local skills and increasing the existing skills pool.
Optimizing migration for all three parties to the migration experience – the individual, sending and receiving countries – can be a win-win-win experience.
Tuesday 9 May 2023 marks the official launch of the European Year of Skills. This special year will put skills centre stage of education and tra...
Tuesday 9 May 2023 marks the official launch of the European Year of Skills. This special year will put skills centre stage of education and training and will highlight the critical role of skills in supporting sustainable growth and development across Europe and its neighbouring regions.
9 May 2023: official launch of the European Year of Skills
37%: percentage of adults undertaking training on a regular basis according to Eurostat
60%: minimum percentage of adults that should participate in training every year, according to the EU’s Member States endorsement of the EU 2030 social targets
Growing: events and awareness-raising campaigns will happen across the EU. We hope you submit yours!
The European Training Foundation will work with its partners in the EU’s neighbouring regions to ensure everyone gets the most out of this important initiative. Find out more here: www.etf.europa.eu/EYS
What's on in May?
Europe Day & European Year of Skills Festival, 9 May
This year, Europe Day – the day we celebrate peace and unity throughout Europe – also marks the official start of the European Year of Skills. Skills, and how they contribute to building our professional futures, will be in the spotlight for a year. Find out how to join the ‘Skills for you’ Festival online.
ETF podcast #27 – Education on the brink: Why a global vision is crucial
What does it mean to have a global vision of education? Could it be a solution for fit-for-purpose and more inclusive education systems? What are the challenges and opportunities facing education and training worldwide, including the impact of artificial intelligence?
In this 27th episode of our Skills Factory podcast series, ETF director, Pilvi Torsti, highlights the global crisis facing education today and the issues that educators and learners need to address urgently.
Applications to our Green Skills Award competition are now closed. We are happy to announce that we have received almost 600 applications. Thank you all for sharing your projects and stories! We are evaluating the applications and selecting the 10 finalists, who will be announced early June during the EU Green Week 2023.
Conference: Civil society for lifelong skills development in Europe and partner countries, 23 May
Have civil society organisations a role to play in formulating skills development policies? Is policy dialogue a means to ensure access to quality lifelong learning for all? These issues will be discussed during a conference jointly organised by the European Training Foundation, the Lifelong Learning Platform and the European Association for the Education of Adults on 23 May. More info.