Solidarity in skills and lifelong learning: EU initiatives inspiring beyond borders
Internal European Union policy measures and actions to support lifelong learning and skills development and the experience accrued from their implementation are fast reaching beyond its borders, as with the Youth Guarantee and the European Alliance for Apprenticeships which feature in this mon...
Internal European Union policy measures and actions to support lifelong learning and skills development and the experience accrued from their implementation are fast reaching beyond its borders, as with the Youth Guarantee and the European Alliance for Apprenticeships which feature in this month's edition of Learning Connects.
Targetting young people, and particularly those not in employment, education or training (NEETs), the Youth Guarantee is a commitment by governments to ensure that all young people under the age of 30 receive a good quality offer of: employment, continued education, apprenticeship, or traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving education.
An interview with the European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, by ETF Director, Pilvi Torsti, gives insight into the motivation and practical steps taken to ensure the Youth Guarantee's success within the context of the Commissioner's portfolio.
The Youth Guarantee also acts as a powerful driver for structural reforms and innovation giving impetus to public employment services to improve and expand their services for young people. Measures to support the Youth Guarantee and its apprenticeship and work-based learning components are currently being implemented in the Western Balkans with ETF support. Similar arrangements are foreseen in the Eastern Partnership and the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean regions.
Exchange of experience on the Youth Guarantee is also taking place with countries further afield, as recently occurred with the peer learning visit of a government delegation from the Kingdom of Thailand to the ETF premises, regional authorities and workplaces in Italy this month featured here.
The ETF supports apprenticeship and work-based learning reforms more widely within a lifelong learning perspective, particularly in partner countries in the EU’s neighbouring regions which are also European Alliance for Apprenticeships (EAfA) partner countries that joined in the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the Alliance high level event on 26 and 27 June.
Alongside Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Türkiye, by 2022 three additional ETF partner countries, Georgia, Israel and Moldova, also became EAfA partner countries bringing to 38 the total number of participating countries to the Alliance. Here below you can find details of the key discussions of the event with particular focus on adult apprenticeship.
The next event on apprenticeships will be the EAfA-ETF seminar for candidate countries and EAfA partner countries in Turin, Italy, on 11 and 12 October. So stay tuned to all our channels to find out more!
Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, in conversation with Pilvi Torsti, ETF Director
Asked for his reflections on the last four years European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, talks about his portfolio on ...
Asked for his reflections on the last four years European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, talks about his portfolio on strengthening the social dimension of the European Union, implementing the Pillar of Social Rights, supporting the integration of displaced Ukrainian citizens, the importance of skills in the EU’s external relations with neighbouring countries, and the core premise of solidarity and social justice in all the EU’s actions.
The ETF’s new series 'In conversation with Pilvi Torsti' was launched in June with this interview of Commissioner Schmit. His experience spans several prestigious positions including Minister of Labour and Social Affairs in his home country of Luxembourg, experience in the foreign service at the end of the Cold War, and being a Member of the European Parliament prior to his current position.
Commissioner Schmit talks about the great privilege he had in contributing to the elaboration of the European Pillar of Social Rights when working in national government, and then being at the helm of its implementation as European Commissioner.
“The EU’s Pillar of Social Rights acquired even greater importance in Europe as it became engulfed by devastating crises; financial, the Covid-19 health pandemic and the Russian aggression in Ukraine,” said the Commissioner, “at the same time the EU’s ambitious goals to address climate change with the Green Deal and digital transition require even greater focus on the social dimension, especially for young people who have been disproportionately affected and placed at greater risk of marginalisation by these events.”
Director Torsti drew upon her experience in the Finnish government creating the Youth Guarantee, which was then adopted throughout the EU and has inspired similar initiatives in the Western Balkans, the Eastern Partnership region and beyond.
“Thanks to the Finnish initiative, the Youth Guarantee has been vital in bringing young people back to the labour market and training,” said Schmit.
“It is really a structural reform because it requires efficient public employment services and partnerships with education and training providers and employers to make it work. It is a powerful tool particularly in countries outside of the European Union because it enhances the engagement of civil society in developing policies and implementation strategies that benefit youth, particularly at times of crisis.”
Turning to the war in Ukraine the Commissioner reflects on the EU’s approach and how it learnt from experience to respond quickly with the Temporary Protection Directive that supported displaced Ukrainian citizens in the EU to immediately benefit from social and education services, allowing them to start working quickly and children to go to school with added support via digital means in the Ukrainian language.
“I think we have shown solidarity at all levels with Ukraine,” said the Commissioner, “and we will continue up to the end and then after to rebuild Ukraine to make it a thriving Member State of the European Union, building on the capacities of the Ukrainian people.”
Director Torsti also complemented the Ukrainian government and citizens with their progress and determination, notwithstanding the Russian aggression, on education and skills development which the ETF has been supporting.
The European Year of Skills is highlighted as an important opportunity to raise awareness and actions about skills development internationally, particularly in the EU’s neighbouring regions and the African continent in light of the green and digital transitions. The EU's population is ageing and will increasing rely on migrant skills for which the EU is implementing mobility arrangements and talent partnerships with several countries.
“There’s a thriving youth with a lot of potential and we are an ageing continent, so working with other countries and developing a skills mindset is essential,” said Commissioner Schmit.
In conclusion, when asked by Director Torsti about those issues which he holds particularly dear, Nicolas Schmit pointed to the EU’s rapid decision making and solutions found during the crises that engulfed the continent, which had not always been the case in the past with the EU being criticised for moving slowly.
“One could say there has been a renewal of the European spirit and solidarity. I’m very proud of the implementation of the Child Guarantee, and the Youth Guarantee. It is about giving each individual the right opportunities, the right education and skills. We work with our neighbours on the same basis.”
The European Alliance for Apprenticeships marks its 10th anniversary!
The European Alliance for Apprenticeships (EAfA) is a platform which brings together governments and key stakeholders, like chambers, vocational...
The European Alliance for Apprenticeships (EAfA) is a platform which brings together governments and key stakeholders, like chambers, vocational education and training (VET) providers, regions, youth representatives, think tanks and social partners. The common goal is to strengthen the quality, supply and image of apprenticeships in Europe and beyond.
The 'European Alliance for Apprenticeships High-Level Event 2023' was held in Brussels on 26 and 27 June. Organised by the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion of the European Commission and the European Alliance of Apprenticeships (EAfA), the event celebrated a decade of the Alliance.
As part of the European Year of Skills (EYS) launched by the European Commission, the event looked at what has been achieved since 2013, and how apprenticeships will play a core role in ensuring future sustainability, support high levels of employment and provide green and digital skills.
Joost Korte, Director-General for Employment, provided an overview of the past decade. The EAfA was created to spur the growth of apprenticeships and help tackle youth unemployment in the EU, which averaged 26.4% in 2013. Korte noted that this figure has halved, and that close to 400 members have joined the EAfA, pledging over 1 million apprenticeship places.
“The Alliance and the EFQEA have been an inspiration across Europe,” he said, noting that Spain has adopted an ambitious reform of its VET programmes and apprenticeships while France saw a 60% growth in the number of apprenticeships, to 800,000, between 2020 and 2022.
“The situation is a lot better compared to 2013,” said Korte, but many challenges are ahead, with labour shortages across many parts of the economy, and the need to develop skills for the green and digital transitions.
“Apprenticeships are an important goal for the European Year of Skills, to build public awareness about the benefits of apprenticeships. Money for once is not the issue. We are coming out of a long period where the EU budget was quite small for education and skills training, but now there are some very big funds [available] to invest in apprenticeships and VET,” he added.
“In our European DNA”
Chiara Riondino, Head of Vocational Education and Training Unit, DG Employment, said that while apprenticeships were “in our European DNA”, having existed as a form of training for hundreds of years, there is a need to address specific challenges, from making apprenticeships more inclusive to supporting the green and digital transitions.
“There are 1,500 organisations involved [in EFQEA], so we need to leverage this incredible network that we have,” said Riodino. “At a systemic level, we’re going in the right direction.”
Dr Pilvi Torsti, Director of the European Training Foundation (ETF), which supports neighbouring countries to reform their education and training systems in the context of the EU’s external relations policies, said that the development of apprenticeships was happening in different contexts across partner countries.
The ETF has played a key role in the sharing of best practices and has actively supported the inclusion of all stakeholders – ministries, VET agencies, chambers of commerce, trade unions and companies – in partner countries in the EAfA since 2016. The ETF has also supported the reform of apprenticeships and work-based learning in EAfA partner countries.
Stefan Thomas, Senior Human Capital Development Expert – Work-based Learning – Africa Team at the ETF, said the EAfA had been utilised to develop reforms in partner countries and for EU members to share information on implementing apprenticeships and dual programmes.
“Many countries started reforms in 2016–17, and implemented them a year or two later.”
“There’s definitely still room for improvement, but we see a much closer collaboration between schools and companies now compared to a decade ago,” said Thomas.
Apprenticeships are one type of work-based learning, the other being traineeships. Some countries, such as the Western Balkans where the ETF has been particularly active, use dual programmes, with education split between classroom and work-based learning.
“We see more institutions coming in and taking over responsibility [for programmes], which is a very good development. In the Western Balkans, many chambers of commerce are taking over responsibilities in the steering and management of dual programmes,” said Thomas.
EU policies to enhance vocational training in EU candidate countries, such as the 2015 Riga Declaration, which included deliverables on work-based learning and apprenticeships, and the 2020 Osnabrück Declaration on lifelong learning, have been important milestones in helping the roll-out of apprenticeships, added Thomas.
Apprenticeships as a means to secure skilled employees
There was widespread consensus at the event that apprenticeships are highly effective and one of the best ways to up-skill and re-skill workers.
Lina Konstantinopoulou, Policy Director at Eurochambres, highlighted a recent survey showing that over 50,000 European companies had reported a shortage of skilled labour. Apprenticeships can help alleviate this shortage, but unfortunately, Konstantinopoulou said:
“Apprenticeships are still perceived to be for young people. There’s a need to change the culture of lifelong learning.”
Easing critical dependencies
Dr Andrey Girenko, a consultant at ECoVEM, the European Centre of Vocational Excellence in Microelectronics, which is connected to the ETF network, said there is a need to develop new skills and competences to ease critical dependencies, such as imports of microelectronics.
“We are swimming in microelectronics. In this room there are probably 1,000 devices but less than 10% of them are made in Europe, and none are made 100% of European components. Europe is lagging behind,” he said.
Promoting adult apprenticeships has become a key focus of the EAfA and the ETF, and will be instrumental in addressing the talent gap, particularly for fast-paced sectors such as the green and digital sectors. As panel member to the dedicated session on adult apprenticeships on the second day, ETF director, Pilvi Torsti, highlighted the need for flexibility in apprenticeship schemes for greater inclusion of adults and to allow countries facing instability to make the scheme one of their strategic goals.
“Reducing the number of years for the scheme from four to one or two years could represent one way of making the scheme more feasible,” she added.
Jurgen Siebel, Executive Director of the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop), said that one of their studies highlighted a number of barriers to adult apprenticeships.
One issue was institutional barriers, including legal frameworks, and the need for incentives for adult apprenticeships.
“Adults may have different expectations, of say higher remuneration than younger apprenticeships. Outreach and guidance is also called for, and thirdly, there needs to be flexibility in organisations’ delivery of apprenticeships. Adults and employers can struggle with more rigid restraints,” said Siebel.
Hands-on, work-based learning was particularly preferred by adults, he added, being a “powerful way to support adult learning”.
Echoing Konstantinopoulou’s remarks, Siebel said that selling apprenticeships to companies and countries is “an uphill battle even though we know it works”. He said that the concept of adult apprenticeships was harder to understand than apprenticeships for young people, but there are good examples of what “good looks like”, such as Finland.
Finland and Belgium’s experiences
Petri Lempinen, Director General, Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, said the country had been a “kind of super power in adult apprenticeships since the 1990s”, having implemented policies in the wake of its economic recession. In 2021, one-third of VET students aged between 55 and 59 were in apprenticeship training, whereas only 5% under 19 in VET were in apprenticeships, he said.
Belgium is a further example of reform success in its apprenticeship system, introducing a recognition system for companies to show they offered apprenticeships, heightening the number of social and labour partners involved in the curricula, and developed a monitoring system.
“The apprenticeship recognition system was revolutionary in Flanders, as before there was no system, only relying on the good intentions of companies,” said Carl Lamote, Department of Education and Training in Flanders, Belgium.
Other priorities for the EAFA which were explored during the various sessions of the event focused on the need for digital and green apprenticeships, stakeholder engagement and reinforcement of the involvement of social partners, support for small and medium enterprises inclusion in apprenticeship arrangements, and mobility of enterprises. Horizontal issues such as gender, social inclusion and the internationalisation of vocational education and training also featured strongly.
The next event on apprenticeships will be the EAfA-ETF seminar for candidate countries and EAfA partner countries in Turin, Italy, on 11 and 12 October.
Skilling young people: ETF and Thailand share experience
The rising share of young people who are not in employment, education, or training (NEETs) in Thailand represents a concerning social and econom...
The rising share of young people who are not in employment, education, or training (NEETs) in Thailand represents a concerning social and economic phenomenon. Today, nearly 1.4 million (or 15%) of young people aged 15–24 years in Thailand are NEET, and a recent UNICEF-led study found a majority of NEETs lack motivation to develop skills or work due to a perceived lack of opportunities.
“We must address the issue of young people in poverty in Thailand now, otherwise it will be an even bigger problem in the future,” said Dr Wanchat Suwankitti, Deputy Secretary-General of the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Council during the recent visit of a government delegation from Thailand to the European Training Foundation (ETF) in Turin.
The purpose of the visit was to engage in a week-long peer learning programme in Italy. The itinerary included visits to the Public Employment Services, regional authorities, as well as education and training providers in the regions of Piedmont and Veneto. The primary objective was to acquire knowledge about youth-related programmes and measures designed to tackle the issue of youth unemployment. The EU’s Youth Guarantee Scheme is a commitment by all EU Member States to ensure that all young people under the age of 30 receive a good quality offer of employment, continued education, apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving education. The ETF has supported its successful implementation in the Western Balkans and similar initiatives are also being planned for other regions within the European Union's neighbourhood.
Like many of these countries, Thailand is facing challenges relating to an ageing population combined with rising youth unemployment and disengagement. Starting in target regions, Thailand has set itself ambitious goals. Starting in the Udon Thani province, it is attempting to reduce the number of young people in the 15–24 age group not in employment, education or training (NEETs) from 15 to 5% within five years.
Boonchob Suthamanuswong, Permanent Secretary of Thailand’s Ministry of Labour, who led the Thai delegation during the visit said:
“The Ministry of Labour acknowledges the significance of youth development as a crucial component of human capital. Consequently, we have established a target in our operational plan to decrease the number of youth classified as NEETs, while simultaneously equipping them with the necessary skills to become a high-quality workforce. This is vital for propelling Thailand's future economic growth and development.”
Drawing upon her experience as a member of the Finnish government, which played a crucial role in introducing the Youth Guarantee initiative in Finland, ETF director, Pilvi Torsti, emphasised the significant impact the Guarantee had had on promoting wider adoption throughout the European Union.
Supporting youth into employment, education or training requires cross-ministerial effort bridging education, employment, enterprise, municipalities, and good working relations with the third sector of non-governmental organisations, and civil society more broadly.
“We know that the EU is doing a lot and we want to learn from the experience in EU Member States, specifically Italy on this occasion, and also learn from the ETF’s experience working with countries in the EU’s neighbouring regions,” said Dr Suwankitti. “The key to successful policies is in the implementation,” he added.
Policy approaches, innovative programmes and ingredients for enabling the successful transition from school to work featured strongly in the peer learning agenda, with attention to the role of individual stakeholders, work-based learning, performance monitoring and evaluation systems, and the management of datasets and evidence.
“While reaching stakeholders may not be difficult, the real challenge lies in transforming their mindsets to foster cohesive collaboration,” said Dr Suwankitti.
Ilaria Favero, Chief of Adolescent Development and Participation at UNICEF Thailand, who accompanied the delegation to Italy, reinforced UNICEF's dedication to collaborating closely with the Royal Thai government and partners such as the ETF in tackling NEET challenges.
"The exchange of good practice between the European Union, Italian authorities, and the Royal Thai government aligns with UNICEF's greater objectives of promoting human capital development and integrated services for NEETs. By working together, we can forge sustainable solutions that empower vulnerable youth, fostering their potential and providing them with meaningful engagement and opportunities for a brighter future,” she said.
Participants in the peer learning visit included representatives of the Thailand’s Ministry of Labour and the National Economic and Social Development Council, President of Udon Thani Rajabhat University, as well as representatives of UNICEF Thailand office. The visit was facilitated by the ETF in collaboration with representatives of the Piedmont and Veneto authorities, education sector, business sector, research and non-governmental organisations.
The research revealed key contributing factors to the NEET phenomenon in Thailand, identified gaps in current policies and services and provided recommendations for targeted interventions. It also triggered a series of consultations about the next policy actions and capacity-building needs at all levels to address the education, employment and social support needs of young people. The European experience of Youth Guarantee schemes and other types of policy and programmes supporting school-to-work transition proved to be relevant to the Thai context.
4 facts on the European Alliance for Apprenticeships
1. The European Alliance for Apprenticeships (EAfA) was launched in the European Union in 2013, with the total number of apprentices pledged sin...
1. The European Alliance for Apprenticeships (EAfA) was launched in the European Union in 2013, with the total number of apprentices pledged since then at 1,072,362.
2. The most represented type of organisation pledging apprenticeships is 'large companies' representing 22% of the whole.
3. The most common aspect of apprenticeships which members pledge to work on is 'the quality'.
4. Eight ETF partner countries are also EAfA partner countries: Albania, Georgia, Israel, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Türkiye.
Reference: European Commission, Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion, Facts and figures
What's on in July?
ETF podcast #29 – Skills development around the EU: a true story
How are skills contributing to a better planet? What is the European Union d...
ETF podcast #29 – Skills development around the EU: a true story
How are skills contributing to a better planet? What is the European Union doing to ensure that investments in education are worth it, and that no one is left behind? Are pro-mobility initiatives benefiting all, including the sending countries?
In this 29th episode of our Skills Factory podcast series, Mathieu Bousquet, Acting Director at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, reflects on skills development initiatives in EU neighbouring countries, and dispels some myths about them.
The 10 finalists of our Green Skills Award competition were announced early June, and the public vote is now open until 29 September. Don’t miss the opportunity to select your favourite stories and cast your vote for the public’s winner!
ETF Network for Excellence (ENE) and VET Toolbox webinar: Green out of the box!, 6 July
This webinar will focus on the greening of the energy and construction sectors in a changing world. Participants will have the opportunity to better understand what the green transformation is; to raise their awareness of the skills needed to support the process; to get inspiration for the further greening of curricula through shared tools and practices; to get insights on skills needs for the recovery of Ukraine.
Since 2014, World Youth Skills Day celebrates ‘the strategic importance of equipping young people with skills for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship’, with a focus this year on ‘skilling teachers, trainers and youth for a transformative future’.