In today's dynamic world, the significance of skills for growth – at individual, institutional, economic and societal levels - cannot be overstated. With millions of jobs at risk in carbon-intensive sectors and the urgent need for green and digital skills in economies that must adapt and compe...
In today's dynamic world, the significance of skills for growth – at individual, institutional, economic and societal levels - cannot be overstated. With millions of jobs at risk in carbon-intensive sectors and the urgent need for green and digital skills in economies that must adapt and compete in new and emerging sectors, continuous lifelong learning, career guidance and skills development is needed like never before.
By developing new skills (reskilling) or improving existing skills (upskilling) people have the chance to transform their lives through career change, professional growth, greater personal and civic engagement in the world around them, and the personal satisfaction that goes along with these achievements and overcoming the fear of change.
Skills development does not occur in isolation, however. It requires a nurturing ecosystem which engages a broad spectrum of stakeholders representing and reaching out to everyone in society. Special measures are needed so that vulnerable and marginalised communities and individuals such as migrants, youth, have the access and opportunity to engage in learning and skills development and benefit from the advantages they bring.
Qualifications signal the knowledge and skills that people possess as stepping stones to future professional endeavours. The reciprocal referencing of qualifications systems, and the validation of non-formal and informal learning are part and parcel of the flexible systems required to make this happen.
By investing and maximising the potential of their employees, companies can achieve better outcomes benefitting economies and societies. The structured engagement of business intermediaries and trade unions in connecting SMEs and education and training in the context of the twin digital and green transitions is a vital step for the implementation and scaling of initiatives. Strengthening the link between vocational education and training (VET), and particularly higher VET with continuing vocational training is a key component in building innovative systems to spur economic growth.
Engaging civil society as an important partner in policy dialogue, implementation, monitoring and assessment on skills development is fundamental for a healthy and equitable skills development ecosystem that ensures progress and growth for all.
Building on the momentum of the European Year of Skills the European Training Foundation is working to support skills for growth at multiple levels and with tailored approaches that contribute to evidence based policy advice in partner countries. Various methods and tools are used to support context sensitive future-oriented solutions, including the profiling of good practice.
This edition of Learning Connects shines a spotlight on some of these activities: the engagement of civil society in skills development policy dialogue which featured in the recent 9th Western Balkans Civil Society Forum; ensuring the skills component within innovative financing arrangements of banks and international financing institutions; and highlights of the winners of this year's ETF Green Skills Awards. ETF Director, Pilvi Torsti also gives her thoughts on ETF's work supporting learning and skills development in the current geo-political climate after her first 100 days in the position.
Equitable skills development: insights from 9th Western Balkans Civil Society Forum
“Lower skilled youth have fewer opportunities for reskilling and upskilling throughout life. Governments should engage in dialogue with civil so...
“Lower skilled youth have fewer opportunities for reskilling and upskilling throughout life. Governments should engage in dialogue with civil society organisations to ensure more equitable opportunities for skills development,” said Hugues Moussy, the Head of the ETF’s Systems Performance and Assessment Unit during a panel session at the 9th edition of the Western Balkans Civil Society Forum on 19-20 October 2023 in Thessaloniki, Greece.
The focus of the event, organised by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in cooperation with the European Commission, the European Training Foundation (ETF), the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) and Cedefop (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training), was on the role of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to ensure that economic, social and political reforms are nested in society for the benefit of everyone.
“Democratic watchdogs that are key for the success of accession negotiations with the European Union” was how Oliver Röpke, the President of the European Economic and Social Council, described CSOs in his opening address.
He was followed by the Vice-President of the European Commission for Democracy and Demography, Dubravka Šuica, who welcomed the EESC’s initiative to include members from the EU’s candidate countries in the advisory work of the institution as momentum grows at European level for the accession of the candidate countries in the region to join the European Union.
Critical issues in the work of CSOs highlighted by the participants from across the region included their limited consultation with governments, restricted engagement in the monitoring of European policy processes, and access to funding. They called for greater support and safeguarding of civic space.
The education system, youth policy and skills development in the Western Balkans were key themes on the agenda with a further focus on adult education, lifelong learning and vocational education and training to address labour market skills mismatch, equitable opportunities for fostering skills and holistic personal development, as well as improvement of the green and digital skills of the adult population and motivation of employees and the unemployed to receive additional education.
“CSOs are the link between citizens and the realities of public policies,” said Margareta Nikolovska, the ETF’s Governance and Quality Assurance Expert who has worked with CSOs in the region for many years.
“Bringing public authorities and civil society together to focus on youth policy and skills policy is also a trust building exercise,” said Nikolovska.
Funding of CSOs and their access to donor funding was a recurrent issue throughout the event. Nikolovska highlighted that public money for programmes will have allocated funds for CSOs and accessing these funds is very often a practical issue to be resolved rather than a political one.
In the final panel session, the focus was on reskilling and upskilling as part of the European Commission’s Skills Agenda, and the difficulties of outreach within communities.
“CSOs are a necessary compliment to Public Employment Services for ensuring outreach to the wider population and especially vulnerable and marginalised communities and individuals,” said Siria Taurelli, the ETF’s Coordinator of Governance and Quality Assurance.
“Within a lifelong learning perspective, greater effort is needed to reconcile initial and continuing vocational education and training in which career guidance and innovative training provision play a vital role, and public-private-civic partnerships are essential,” concluded Taurelli.
The Declaration adopted at the end of the conference will build towards the European Commission's Enlargement package for the region expected in November and the EU-Western Balkans Summit in December.
Innovative financing and skills: interview with Donatella Di Vozzo, ETF
The ETF’s Donatella Di Vozzo brings a wealth of specialist financial knowledge to her policy advice role as human capital development specialist...
The ETF’s Donatella Di Vozzo brings a wealth of specialist financial knowledge to her policy advice role as human capital development specialist at the European Training Foundation (ETF). An economist by training, she previously worked as an education economist at the Belgian Development Agency and the European Commission, notably in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Since joining the ETF in September 2021, she has been bringing that experience of financing education projects to her new focus on labour market initiatives.
“How sectors are financed is very important,” Di Vozzo explains. “The financing can either be public, or it can be generated in more innovative ways. As part of the ETF’s focus particularly on vocational training, we want to create a space for more innovative financing. It shouldn’t just be about funding projects through the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Finance.”
Innovative financing has been taking on an increasing role in the European Union’s external action in recent years, supplementing the traditional grant-based model for development cooperation. International partnerships have become increasingly prominent, including those with diverse stakeholders within the ETF’s partner countries in the regions neighbouring the European Union as well as various international organisations including international financial institutions (IFIs).
“New types of financing like loans and guarantees are becoming more common, and that creates a more prominent role for banks and IFIs,” says Di Vozzo. “They’re not going to entirely replace traditional models of cooperation, but they’re definitely gaining in importance.”
Cementing new partnerships
The ETF has long enjoyed close partnerships with IFIs, but in recent years the emphasis has been on expanding these relationships and engaging with them more strategically. Prominent partners now include the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Asian Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, the African Development Bank, the World Bank, and the Association of European Development Finance Institutions. What is the driver for this renewed commitment?
“The IFIs all play a key role in our partner countries,” she says. “They’re going to be investing in crucial sectors, like the green and digital transitions. It’s very important for us that those investments should be sustainable.”
Focus on skills
Because this is not just about money.
“We need to ensure that the necessary skills are in place to implement the projects the banks are financing,” she explains. “That’s not even the case in Europe right now. Do we have all the skilled engineers and workers we need to achieve the green transition? Probably not. And the problem is amplified in the partner countries.”
The way forward
So, what needs to be done?
“The skills component needs to be included systematically in all projects funded by the banks.”
To make sure that happens, the ETF is acting at three different levels. The first involves reaching out to IFIs to ensure that the ETF – as a specialised EU agency in education and skills development – and the banks are acting in a mutually supportive way to address these concerns. A special event organised with several investment banks in Turin last year was an opportunity to identify progress being made on this front.
The second axis involves leveraging the ETF’s considerable knowledge base to provide specialist advice in designing investment projects. When an IFI is considering investing in a country or region, the ETF can supply detailed intelligence on the specific sectors concerned.
“Knowing what skills are available can really help to orientate bank investments.”
Lastly, the ETF can provide access to a wide range of local stakeholders, to support projects during the implementation phase.
“After many years working in partner countries, the ETF is engaged in many local networks, which are not immediately accessible to the IFIs,” says Di Vozzo. “So, we can help put them in touch with the people they need to support upskilling and reskilling initiatives.”
Making it real
Currently, this new approach can be seen in ongoing discussions with the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the African Development Bank and the Asian Development Bank, to explore future collaborations on policy reform and implementation on education and skills development. In addition, as part of the European Year of Skills, the ETF is planning a special publication to heighten the visibility of the work it is doing in this field.
“We need to communicate and raise awareness among IFIs of all the opportunities that exist for them in EU external action programmes focused on jobs and growth,” she says.
Thanks to the initiatives now underway, that awareness is growing by the day.
Green Skills Award Winners 2023
Lebanon’s ‘Zero waste’ project for student empowerment wins the Green Skills Award 2023
In an inspiring display of international support, thousands of citizens from all corners of the globe endorsed Lebanon’s public-school educator, Fateen Sleem, as the best practice in teaching and learning of green skills. Faten’s story highlights the power of bottom-up initiatives that serve as an inspiration for reducing waste and encourage other schools and communities to follow suit. This scheme emerged as the winner of 10 finalists selected from almost600 applications from over 70 countries. The three winners were unveiled today by the European Training Foundation, organiser of the Green Skills Award since 2021.
Lebanon’s ‘Zero waste’ project: Educating for waste reduction and student environmental empowerment (winner)
Lebanon is grappling with a severe waste management issue characterised by piling waste and environmental pollution. To combat this, a public-school educator, Faten Sleem, launched a 'zero waste' initiative, focusing on education to empower students and the wider community. The project is establishing a model for waste reduction and inspire other schools and communities. The methodology involves developing a waste reduction plan, promoting reusable containers, collaborating with local businesses and parents, involving students in awareness campaigns, and establishing partnerships with local farmers and NGOs. They have achieved reduced waste generation, promoted sustainable behaviours, developed leadership skills, and improved the school's environmental footprint.
Morocco (with Spain) training for marginalised youth, and Kenya’s skills for waste management (second and third place)
Morocco (in partnership with Spain):Bouregreg Med-O-Med Gardening School by FUNCI, providing green vocational training for marginalised youth. The Bouregreg Med-O-Med Gardening School is a vocational training centre in Salé, Morocco, that provides green employment opportunities for marginalised young people. Managed by FUNCI-Morocco, it offers free training and focuses on ecological gardening practices. The school is located on a rehabilitated landfill site and promotes sustainable development strategies in alignment with national environmental policies. With a three-year curriculum, it trains up to 90 learners annually and supports their integration into the job market. The school also serves as an environmental education centre for the public and generates income through plant production and various activities.
Kenya:E-waste management, promoting skills development opportunities for sustainable e-waste management. Kenya’s project "Promoting Demand-Driven Skills in E-waste Management and Recycling in Kenya" aims to address the challenges posed by e-waste. Currently, only 1% of e-waste generated annually in Kenya is recycled, leading to environmental pollution. The project focuses on building the capacity of local institutions to train technicians with the necessary skills to process and manage e-waste. Through the development of a curriculum, equipment provision, and training, the project has successfully created employment opportunities for young Kenyans while addressing the environmental and health concerns associated with improper e-waste disposal. The project's approach and outcomes make it a leading model for sustainable e-waste management initiatives globally.
Pilvi Torsti: my first 100 days as ETF director
"If you are very strong, you must also be very kind", quoting the iconic Pippi Longstocking, Dr. Torsti passionately advocates for investme...
"If you are very strong, you must also be very kind", quoting the iconic Pippi Longstocking, Dr. Torsti passionately advocates for investments in learning and skills, particularly in the face of evolving geopolitical challenges.