The ETF's communication campaign in November and December highlights the role of skills development for growth leading to career transformation, economic and societal growth, and civic engagement.
In today's dynamic and fraught world, with millions of jobs at risk in carbon-intensive sectors, the need for green and digital skills so that economies can compete, continuing lifelong learning, and skills development is as urgent as ever. The significance of skills for growth – at individual, economic and societal levels – cannot be overstated, offering a pathway of hope to the future as outlined by Pilvi Torsti, ETF Director.
By developing new skills (reskilling) or improving existing ones (upskilling), people have the chance to transform their lives, which can lead to career change, professional growth, and greater personal and civic engagement in the world around them.
Skills development does not occur in isolation, however. It requires a nurturing ecosystem that 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 young people, women, and veterans have the access and opportunity to engage in quality learning and relevant skills development and the advantages they can bring.
Insights from the Torino Process 2023 monitoring
The ETF has just released Education, skills and employment: Trends and developments, a cross-country overview of key issues linked to skills for growth incorporating data and insights from the Torino Process with integrated evidence from the KIESE (Key indicators on education, skills and employment) data collection and inputs by ETF partner countries.
The report emphasises lifelong learning and assesses the adaptability and equity of learning opportunities in response to societal, political, and economic changes. It presents what education, training, and employment policies deliver to young and adult learners across the countries of Central Asia, South Eastern Europe and Türkiye, the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean, and the Eastern Partnership region.
Stagnating or declining youth populations will impact the skills needed across most ETF partner countries, combined with a corresponding shift that is required to address the needs of an ageing population. This demographic shift is compounded by the challenge of the NEET (young people not in education, employment or training) phenomenon, whose prevalence exceeds the EU27 average in many of these countries. The rising trend of migrants in the youth population further underscores the urgency for diversified education and training strategies to address diverse needs.
Yet, access to education and training remains uneven and highly dependent on the age of prospective learners. Many countries effectively engage young people in learning, yet struggle to similarly involve adults, especially those who do not fall into any of the special categories such as long-term unemployed or adults with low or no education. This highlights a persistent gap in lifelong learning opportunities.
This edition of Learning Connects highlights just some of the work being done in partner countries in the EU's neighbouring regions to address these issues with support from the ETF. Studies and tools to better understand and internationalise centres of vocational excellence, and the development of engagement in Ukraine are in focus.
Centres of vocational excellence driving the digital and green transitions
Transforming education: vocational excellence centres lead the way in the digital and green transition with impactful research.
Three ETF studies on the role of centres of vocational excellence (CoVEs) in the digital and green transitions and applied research showcase how very different CoVEs from across the globe are driving transformation and reinventing vocational education. They were presented to 90 delegates from 20 different countries attending the ETF's two-day conference entitled "Building a strong international cooperation on vocational excellence" in Turin, 10–11 November.
In the digital transition study, the importance of a whole-institutional approach was clear, requiring strategies for both "internal" and "external" digitalisation: not only the digitalisation of the curriculum and learning environment, including gamification and the continuous upskilling of teachers, but also collaboration with industry and external stakeholders to refine digital learning programmes, organise placements and provide funding.
The green transition study unearthed contrasting approaches, with some centres preferring a flexible and evolving approach, and others opting for fixed goals and action plans. Because of the rapid evolution of green technologies, many CoVEs are moving away from a fixed syllabus in favour of nurturing critical, independent thinking and practical, hands-on experience.
The greening of the campus, and of courses for professions considered "non-green", was seen as essential, as was collaboration with industry partners and the seeking of inspiration from across the globe.
The study into applied research in vocational education revealed widespread benefits for students: engagement in real-world research developed their soft-skills – teamwork, communication, presentation skills, problem-solving and leadership capabilities – as well as familiarising them with concrete work-place issues around budgeting and time management.
Through applied research, students became not just the recipients of new knowledge, but the co-creators of it. At the same time they gained labour-market insights and opportunities to improve their CVs and cognitive competences.
The benefits to CoVEs of applied research were equally clear: a diversification of funding, the retention of intellectual property rights and deepening links to external stakeholders.
Responding to the research, Karolina Sikala, International Coordinator at the Green Academy (Denmark) described how the green and digital transitions go hand in hand: "For us, 'green' isn't just a word, it's something we're trying to model, with solar panels and green roofs full of insects. We're trying to make sustainability visible."
Anass Ait Laachir, from IFMEREE (Morocco), echoed the point: "We're already autonomous and self-sufficient in terms of energy during the day. These installations – wind power, solar panels – increase awareness within civil society, popularising clean energy."
"We're trying", said Sikala, "to go to the next level in digitalisation. One of our teachers has created an app so that you can click on all the plants on our campus and get lots of information. We've bought virtual reality glasses so that, instead of damaging thousands of real trees, students can learn to prune virtual ones."
Virtual reality is also used, she added, to see in advance if students are scared to work at height. "We can give foreign students a guided tour of the campus before they arrive."
Many delegates emphasised that the greatest obstacle to both transitions is capital costs. "The hardest thing", said Najib Hamouti, Head of the International Relations at ESITH (Morocco), "is how to implement this strategy, because there's always a price you pay for it. Maybe you have to replace your heating machinery with PV panels or invest in new software."
Tamar Zakarashvili, Director of Georgia's college Construct 2, agreed: "The biggest challenge is that there are not sufficient funds for the transitions. Innovation is very fast – this year we have one type of product, then a new product next year. The college can't buy a new device every year. There's a limited budget and you have to live with it."
But she highlighted one way they resolve the issue. "We outsource the practical parts of the syllabus: if a company has the custom part we need, the students can go to the company, although you don't want a newcomer to hop on a $3 million caterpillar and do serious damage!"
Many delegates identified an ageing, often conservative teaching staff as an obstacle to digitalisation. "Teachers who are used to doing things in a traditional way feel challenged," said Nino Revishvili, Institutional Development Leader at Skills Agency Georgia, "especially in vocational education which is about doing things with your hands."
But according to him, teachers are becoming appreciative of the transformation: "Digitalisation can simplify their daily routine. Teachers always complain that they do not have enough time to work on practical tasks. Digital platforms are thus an opportunity: everything on the instruction side can be placed on a digital platform, so that face-to-face time is spent on what they really want to teach, the practical side."
There's also the challenge of knowing what to buy. "It's not always easy to get advice," said Hamouti. "It's not easy to purchase the right software. You can buy the services of a platform which turns out to be rubbish, expensive and costly. We were not advised well and made mistakes in our purchasing..."
The need for cooperation with externals – other colleges, companies and countries – was a constant throughout the conference. "What was inspiring for me," said Lilia Zestrea, Head of Lifelong Learning at the Centre of Excellency in Construction (Moldova), "was seeing how collaboration between government, VET centres and economic agencies can work, hearing good examples and practices."
Zestrea maintained that building materials are evolving so fast that "companies come to us to explain what is going on with hempcrete, straw and smart (passive-heating) houses. We go to their sites, and they give us materials to show our students. Without company involvement it's hard to develop competences in cutting-edge materials."
"Construction is one of the most rapidly evolving industries,” Zakarashvili said, “and every new technology affects a company's success. If the company is involved in VET, VET schools receive information very fast, and companies can find well-trained employees."
"When a new material – the ytong block, a sort of aerated brick – was being introduced, the information came to us right away because we have the biggest construction company in Georgia as a founder, and it took only a month or two to redesign courses and include it in the curriculum. That's why it's crucially important to be involved in private sector."
Those connections can also help with the content and duration of the curricula. “When we were creating a new module on biodiversity,” said Sikala, “we didn't know where to start so we asked within our network. One partner said 'we already have a course, contact Heidi, she'll help you.' It hugely sped up the process of developing a new course. We don't need to reinvent the wheel, just adjust it and make it run faster.”
Zestrea described how understanding workplace contexts can help fill courses. "Initially we were offering long courses, for say three months, and it was difficult for workers to participate for that length of time. So we altered our training courses, making them only two or three days long, and that clearly suited workers and their companies.”
Delegates frequently highlighted how vital international links were for their campuses. “The international dimension is very important for economic development,” said Laurent Renaux from the Campus d'Excellence Industrie du futur Sud (France). “To be making helicopter parts in Romania and Germany is a very good way to leverage cooperation, convergence and a recognition of competences.”
Renaux maintained that CoVEs have “an important role in creating citizens of the world. That’s why we have partnerships developing software in South Africa.”
“We don’t just train for the sake of training,” said Ait Laachir, “we are trying to improve our training offering to integrate people into the labour market. We work a lot with the British Council and with some universities in Northern Ireland, with another in Exeter, another in Africa. We’re training the trainers in Senegal in order to launch a new factory there...”
There was widespread enthusiasm about the benefits to CoVEs of conducting practical research on behalf of external stakeholders. “We have an R&D department," said Hamouti, "and from the very outset research has been applied and we’re working with companies so that it becomes an income generator. It's a virtuous circle, enabling us to enrol more PhD students and give them scholarships. If it's our research, we can also protect the patent."
"With textiles,” he said, “there's always something to improve. We worked with a famous company in the automotive sector on the textiles for their upholstery in order to make more sophisticated coverings..."
Closing the conference, Manuela Geleng, Director of Skills at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, said: “The work that the ETF has done has been very helpful. CoVEs are a bottom-up approach that links together different centres, building bridges across regions, countries and borders, and the ETF has a vital role in connecting the dots that are out there.”
“Vocational education will be at the forefront of the deep transformations we are living through. The ETF is making sure there is coherence in the approach to really support transformation, competitiveness and social fairness.”
More information on the event, background information, and outcomes can be found on ETF OpenSpace, website and social media channels.
Adult learning, a key pillar for development in Ukraine's Poltava region
In times of conflict and rebuilding, Ukraine aims to enhance educational services and promote adult education legislation.
“We are facing difficult times. We are at war and yet trying to rebuild our country. We need to broaden the services of training institutions, universities and beyond to keep abreast of the changes in the world around us. When the war is over, war veterans will need education and training at many levels.
The legislature of Ukraine needs to make sure that salaries of teachers, researchers and others offer sufficient incentives to stay here. As a future member of the European Union, qualifications are crucial for us to integrate, compete and welcome those who wish to return or move here.
As a key pillar in our efforts, we will work to make sure that the draft law on adult education will get through Parliament."
Such were the words of Olexii Ustenko, member of the Ukrainian parliament (deputy of the Verkhovna Rada) in his address to the participants at the round table on lifelong learning organised by the Poltava municipality, the Association of Adult Education, and the Poltava University of Economy and Trade, who gathered in Ukraine on 15 November.
Public authorities, education and training professionals, civil society, and employer representatives were joined by representatives of other European adult education and learning institutions from Germany and Sweden, and the European Training Foundation (ETF) to discuss ways to improve lifelong learning as a pillar of the region's development – currently and for the post-war period.
The physical meeting was prefaced by security announcements on where to take shelter in case of shelling, which also served inadvertently to contextualise the topic of the meeting to an environment in which all those concerned are affected either directly or indirectly by the impact of aggression and war. Nevertheless, the atmosphere at the event was a lively one, full of discussion, enthusiasm and commitment to the future.
Why focus on lifelong learning?
Why is lifelong learning chosen as the topic for today's event? Is it right to talk about this now during the war? asked Levan Kvatchadze from DVV International.
“Without doubt. The example of successful countries that went through periods of crisis and began to recover and develop rapidly shows that, in order to achieve swift progress, along with reforms in the formal education system, great importance was given to building an adult education system and investing in it. Adulthood is the longest period of life, and adults are the largest group of people in society. So, rapid development requires investment not only in future generations - formal education, but also in adult education and training,” said Kvatchadze.
Indeed, the first speakers from the Poltava University of Economics and Trade, Pyvovarska Kseniia, Professor of Philosophy and Lecturer Trade, Liudmyla Shymanovska-Dianych , Head of the Department of Management, and Gnitiy Nadiia, expert in nutrition and adult education addressed the need for support to everyone in Ukraine so that they may overcome the experience of war, and particularly for veterans and their families. The shared sentiment of all the speakers was that lifelong learning, and adult learning in particular, is fundamental to ensuring reintegration into work and society and that for it to succeed, efforts are needed to address mental health and well-being.
“Better cooperation between stakeholders, in particular learning providers and local authorities, is needed as is the redistribution of funding to integrate veterans into learning institutions for greater inclusion,” said Pyvovarska.
Identifying learner needs
For the development of entrepreneurship and self-employment, Shymanovska called for more communication and networks between community groups, and representatives of businesses and the public sector, as well as a better understanding of learners’ motivation for entrepreneurial activity including veterans.
“Strategies and upgrading of legislation must also be put in place,” she said, “together with more formalised approaches within education and trained professional educators, coaches and mentors.”
A communication platform with vacancies and new training programmes with bonuses for self-employment was put forward as another way of helping.
Nadiia Gnitiy presented funding avenues, such as international grants, local and oblast budgets, and the aim to tap into other channels that include the Ukrainian diaspora, especially those who plan on returning after the war.
What is education and lifelong learning for adults? asked Glazov Oleksandr, Advisor to the Head of the Poltava Regional Council on Participation and Youth Issues, replying that there is a need for social advertising and socialisation and examples of good practice.
“We must encourage people to change and realise that adult education is normal. Some people have a negative attitude to learning at an older age which must be overcome,” he said.
Understanding labour market needs
Yuriy Matvienko, Vice-Rector of the Poltava University of Economy and Trade, highlighted the diversity within Ukraine and its regions and that at the top level a whole layer of leaders and professionals has been lost as a result of the war. He said that even needs must be identified at this level, adding that public employment services need to improve monitoring and planning processes.
"Not all employers are ready to employ people with formal education,” he added.
Delia Oksana, Director of the Poltava Cooperative College, reinforced the message about the lack of knowledge of the labour market and the training taking place. She spoke about the success of adult education providers within communities, which mostly exist within hubs that include vocational education and training institutions. Online courses have been a key part of their outreach. Nevertheless, she criticised the absence of a mechanism for the development of adult education in communities due to the lack of legislation and a strategy that would allow for a greater understanding of labour force needs.
Bringing all stakeholders together
Nadiya Vlasenko, activist and civil society representative cautioned against “adult education being narrowed down to guidance as it really needs to be broadened out and understood by all those concerned, supported by public-private-civic partnerships.” E-democracy is also needed to support the active citizens, she added.
In addition, she and Alina Tkachenko, Director of the Institute of Day Education of the Poltava University of Economy and Trade, drew attention to the absence of space and technical facilities for learning, and that premises and education establishments need to have access for those with disabilities which includes many veterans. The ETF’s Siria Taurelli commended the Poltava University of Economy and Trade for its choice of venue for the roundtable itself, hosted in a local art museum, underscoring the importance of public spaces such as this for providing much needed civic spaces for learning.
Tkachenko called for a communication strategy at state level because associations of adult education need to operate at local, regional and inter-regional levels to share information and products. Her point was supported by Taurelli who highlighted the need for commitment and engagement of local level authorities, companies, experts, teachers, social partners, and civil society for reconstruction of the human and social fabric of society, particularly in the post-war era.
“The EU accession process will no doubt offer more concrete support,” she concluded.
Ukraine and the European Union
In her presentation, Taurelli began by acknowledging education and training as a social right upheld within the European Pillar of Social Rights, which is a basis for the European Skills Agenda. The latter has set ambitious learning objectives within the European Union whereby at least 50% of European citizens should participate in a learning opportunity once a year by 2025, and 60% by 2030.
“Social fairness and equity should not be separate from economic competitiveness,” said Taurelli.
She then outlined the four building blocks of the European Skills Agenda: (1) a call for collective action bringing together multiple stakeholders e.g. government, business, social partners, civil society organisations as reflected in the EU’s Pact for skills; (2) skills for jobs; (3) tools for wider lifelong learning e.g. personal and life competences; and (4) unlocking investments in skills.
Taurelli spoke of the importance of integrated actions that connect especially at local level to obtain an understanding of the diversity of needs. Innovation in teaching and learning is also needed to respond to them, combined with quality assurance of all forms of learning – formal, non-formal, and informal.
“Governance to manage and plan all different actions and actors is essential with monitoring particularly at local level,” she said.
Taurelli concluded her presentation with a call for joint forces to implement lifelong learning, the mobilisation of resources, and experimentation – “building alliances, co-creation and accepting to take initiative and becoming more entrepreneurial even in the public sector”.
“More funding can be attracted at local level on top of national funding, and this needs to be combined with innovation in terms of methods and the creation of new services and areas of work developing and refining professional skills to support adult learners,” she said.
Taurelli talked about "experimentation" and how it is often more feasible at local level than at national level. "Making mistakes and failures must be an important part of finding out what is needed to get things right," she concluded.
When does adult learning start?
Some discussion occurred on the age at which adult learning starts during the presentations from the Adult Education Centre in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany, by Andrea Bernert Buerkle, and from the Boros municipality, Sweden, by Tina Lundell, respectively. There was a general agreement that it began after the age of 20 at a minimum and continued throughout life until senior years, with the moderator aptly concluding:
“Education for adults should hopefully disappear and instead be known as an open system for everyone. That would mean our mission has been accomplished.”
Manuela Geleng: a timely conversation on vocational excellence
“It is really time to have vocational education and training recognised as a central part of our employment and lifelong learning systems in o...
“It is really time to have vocational education and training recognised as a central part of our employment and lifelong learning systems in order for us to tackle today's challenges."
In the corridors of EU policymaking, Manuela Geleng is a prominent and influential figure. As the Director for Jobs and Skills at the European Commission's Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs, and Inclusion, she is at the forefront of reshaping vocational education and training. Her insights play a vital role in steering the EU's policies towards a future where vocational skills are not just necessary but celebrated.
Redefining vocational education
"Vocational education and training," Manuela Geleng begins, "was once stuck in the shadow and often seen as the last resort for many." She describes a vision where 'vocational excellence' isn't just a policy term, but a powerful force for change. Now we are in an era where vocational routes are the way forward for many professions, particularly those stemming from the digital and green transitions. "These are not the old-fashioned jobs of yesterday," she asserts, "but rather roles that are carving out the future."
Discussing the international dimension of vocational excellence, Manuela Geleng emphasises a collective journey. The EU's role in this is not insular; the EU has always been multilateral in its approaches, and has promoted cooperation at regional level, as can be also seen in the recently published enlargement package proposed at the beginning of November. "Collaboration," she notes, "isn't just beneficial, it's essential." She references the wisdom of sports legend Roger Federer: "You cannot be alone at the top." This philosophy also underpins the EU's collaboration with organisations like the ILO and the OECD as well as EU agencies like the ETF and initiatives such as Erasmus+.
The conversation shifts to the strategic importance of tools like ISATCOVE (a new international self-assessment tool targeting centres of vocational excellence) and support services for centres of vocational excellence. Manuela Geleng sees these as more than mere assessment tools; they are the compasses guiding the transformation of vocational training. "They show us where we excel and where the journey is still tough," she explains. By recognising progress and highlighting blind spots, she sees these kinds of assessment as a potential way of transforming vocational training across Europe and beyond. Such insights are essential in a landscape where vocational training is rapidly evolving to meet new economic and social demands.
Beyond the European Year of Skills
As the European Year of Skills progresses, Manuela Geleng is mindful about its legacy. "It's not about leaving a legacy per se," she explains. "It's about recognising that the need for skills development is a constant." In this context, the ETF's role is not just supportive but foundational, continuously adapting and responding to the changing tides of labour market needs and societal expectations.
In conclusion, Manuela Geleng reiterates the importance of vocational training in the modern European narrative. It's a story of continuous adaptation, a tale where every twist and turn is met with innovation and collaborative spirit. With leaders like Manuela Geleng at the helm, vocational training in Europe is not just surviving; it's thriving, ready to meet the challenges of today’s transforming world.
Breaking the mould: from school dropout to engineer
Listen to our podcast and dive into an inspiring journey of resilience and success!
In this Skills Factory podcast, engineering student Elimon Dingwiza, shares his unique education journey, leading us to question the relevance of formal education for today’s young people.
Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Elimon attended several schools before dropping out in an attempt to satisfy his thirst for knowledge beyond standard curricula. He excelled in self-guided learning, highlighting a gap between education systems and students’ potential. He eventually enrolled in Politecnico di Torino to gain new opportunities and develop his skills.
The conversation emphasises the importance of curiosity, self-discovery, and the pursuit of passions. It offers an empowering message to young people, encouraging them to explore their own interests and to break through the boundaries of current education systems.