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A European Skills Agenda – Let’s fulfil its potential

Today the European Commission has unveiled its initiative: a European Skills Agenda for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience.  It sets ambitious, quantitative objectives for upskilling (improving existing skills) and reskilling (training in new skills) to be achieved within the next 5 years.

The Agenda is built around the five areas and twelve different actions that come together in what is supposed to update the 2016 Skills Agenda. Among the 12 actions, we find new initiatives such as Action 8 (Skills for life) that LLLP has called for in 2016. Additionally a few promising actions such as Action 9 (Creating Individual Learning Accounts) that are likely to boost professional training but most importantly to introduce universal training entitlements. The action 10 (A European approach to Micro-Credentials) is another novelty for European education and training offer but yet to be developed and defined. LLLP is part of the Consultation Expert Group set by the Commissioner in March this year. The Action 11 (the Europass platform) revision of the existing Europass platform it’s the result of 2-year hard work to improve learning and work mobility in Europe which LLLP has been proudly part of.

This update is an ambitious and comprehensive effort, that mobilises most sectors of our society in a common aim to modernise Europe towards a sustainable and resilient future.

The Lifelong Learning Platform welcomes this far-reaching plan, as a beneficial update of the 2016 Skills Agenda. It is commendable that its primary objective is “to ensure the right to training and lifelong learning“, as we believe that this is precisely the direction that Europe should be heading to. Its goal to lay the foundation for green and digital transition is a particularly positive angle, as it addresses contemporary societal challenges from the education and training standpoint.

The updated New European Skills Agenda has seized the opportunity to finally revive vocational education and training (VET) as the key element of lifelong learning systems. We are glad to acknowledge that the Commission is promoting VET as a rightful first-choice path, and that permeability between education, lifelong learning and VET sectors is duly emphasised: it is only through such a holistic approach that we will be able to overcome today’s unprecedented challenges.

The same goes for Life Skills, a topic that LLLP had addressed in the recent past. The specific action on Life Skills tackles financial, health, and environmental literacy: while the effort to link them to sustainability is undeniably good news (as we have been asking), the accent on Life Skills should be stronger and most of all transversal to all sectors of learning.

Many of the Skills Agenda new elements revolve around its targets for education, to be achieved by 2025. The choice of these key targets highlights a renewed attention to vulnerable groups and testifies of a massive effort in collecting, monitoring and reporting data.

But this raises a number of questions. LLLP urges policy-makers that citizens, learners, educators, educational institutions and other stakeholders have a say in the implementation and the evaluation of the Agenda. It is not clear how relevant stakeholders will access the funding available, nor is their involvement in the decisions regarding the European Skills Agenda. LLLP wishes to warn against the danger of a top-down approach, as the education sector itself is loosely involved in the definition of the targets.

Another important concerning element of ambitious policy reforms is the continuation of existing policies and evaluation of their implementation. Not to mention the link between different policies to ensure coherence that we hope the further development of the European Education Area will address.

By the same token, we regret that the definition of lifelong learning rests on a narrow point of view: its function is not solely related to upskilling and reskilling processes, and it certainly cannot be reduced to a skills-for-jobs approach. Lifelong learning englobes and encompasses these concepts, with its guiding principles being ‘inclusion‘ and learning opportunities. Building on this, lifelong learning cannot remain confined to work environments, however important, but should be embedded in every citizen’s mindset since the earliest stages of their lives.

The Skills Agenda truly has the potential to equip current and future generations with the necessary skills to face today’s many challenges. It made big steps towards an increased role of education and training in our world, but more cross-sector cooperation is needed to ensure that we make the final leap.