02.01.2017 EAEAPOLICY

An agenda that goes beyond learning for the labour market

With the New Skills Guarantee (“Upskilling Pathways”), the European Commission has presented an ambitious strategy for improving skills of adults all around Europe. Several Members of the European Parliament, representatives of the European Commission and the Council of Europe as well as civil society discussed the Skills Agenda in a meeting of the Lifelong Learning Interest Group on 30 November 2016.

The European Commission and the member states are focusing on how to improve the skills of adults in Europe.

The meeting took place just a few days after the EU Council under Slovak Presidency had adopted a resolution on a "New Skills Agenda for an inclusive and competitive Europe".

“We are living in a Europe that is changing rapidly,” said Chiara Riondino from DG Employment at the European Commission.

“We witness a real digital transformation. At the same time, we see that the labour force is ageing and shrinking. These are key drivers for the Skills Agenda.”

While she acknowledged that learning for employment remained one of the key objectives of European education and learning strategies, she emphasised the importance of learning outside the formal system. She also encouraged civil society to assume an active role: “The cooperation with civil society is crucial to make the Skills Agenda a reality in the Member States.”

Ivar Staffa from the Council of Europe under the Slovak Presidency underlined that the Skills Agenda goes beyond learning for the labour market.

In addition to adult learning for employment, it is also central for acquiring civil and social skills. This implies looking not only on basic skills but also transversal skills,” he said, reinforcing a message that civil society has highlighted for a long time.

“Skills for jobs and skills for life need to be complementary, for social inclusion as well as for personal development.”

Putting learners and teachers at the centre

Gina Ebner, EAEA Secretary General, said that the validation of skills acquired through non-formal education as well as empowering learners were key issues.

“The learner needs to be at the centre of all learning efforts,” Mr. Staffa emphasised. Julie Ward (S&D, UK), added that “we have to work harder to retain the value of learning for its own sake.”

The New Skills Agenda can provide an opportunity to broaden the understanding of lifelong and adult learning by including values such as active citizenship and social inclusion. This, however, will require enabling learning environments.

Sirpa Pietikäinen (EPP, FI), Chair of the LLL Interest Group, said that teachers needed to be empowered in order to achieve this goal.

Building new capacities and coalitions

Participants stressed the importance of synergies between DG Education and Culture and DG Employment of the European Commission and a strong cooperation with civil society and trade unions for an effective implementation of the Skills Agenda.

Michael Karpisek, EURASHE Secretary General, suggested to rethink the concept of employability. “Maybe employability should mean developing skills to be able to adapt to the ever changing economic circumstances.” Transversal skills such as critical thinking, creativity and being able to work in teams are key in today’s labour market.

The participants reminded that the Skills Agenda should not only be a pathway for people, but also a tool that will encourage decision makers to make it a reality.

“Civil society is happy to take on a strong role in the implementation of the Skills Agenda. However, we will need sufficient support from the European institutions for this task,” said Brikena Xhomaqi, LLL Platform Director.

While the newly adopted Skills Guarantee addresses EU citizens, a skills profile tool for third country nationals will be released next year.

Initiated by EAEA and Lifelong Learning Platform together with a number of MEPs, the Interest Group on Lifelong Learning brings together civil society representatives and MEPs to discuss key issues connected to lifelong learning with strong emphasis on adult education.

Text: Raffaela Kihrer
Photos: Ej Agumbay, EAEA

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