Recognising the value of non-formal education

Written by Momchil Nekov on 7 July 2017 in Opinion

The so-called 'horizontal skills' that employers are after are not taught in formal education, explains Momchil Nekov.

Momchil Nekov | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

Parliament's report on the skills agenda has the ambition to broaden the focus of the Commission's proposal, which is mainly oriented towards the immediate labour market needs. 

In today's fast changing economic and societal environment, young Europeans should be equipped not only with skills for jobs, but also with skills for life in order to be successful in their personal and professional lives. Achieving this goal would require stepping up efforts in three areas.

First, let's be honest, providing people with a minimum set of skills is not helping them to find sustainable jobs. It is crucial to ensure that every individual is encouraged to acquire advanced skills and competences in order to better adapt to the future.


We need to put in place a progressive skills agenda, which guarantees learning and training opportunities for everyone. Skills development must be a shared responsibility between education providers and employers. 

In reality, employers want soft skills such as team working, resilience, leadership and a sense of initiative, while in the same time only 25 per cent of them offer apprenticeships. To expect a change of any kind, we should first change our mentalities.

Second, recruiters no longer look for diplomas. They look for individuals with so-called 'horizontal skills'. These include the capacity to adapt in a dynamic working environment, the ability to cope with a challenging workload, as well as attitudes such as entrepreneurial spirit and self-confidence. Do we really learn these skills in the classroom? We don't. 

In reality, we learn much more outside the formal education system. Participating in voluntary activities, work-based learning or being an activist in NGO might foster a multitude of skills, knowledge and attitudes needed for meaningful participation in the labour market and social life.

This is the reason why I find it regrettable that employers and formal education providers do not sufficiently recognise the value and relevance of non-formal and informal learning.

I believe that the skills agenda needs to refocus on the role of non-formal education, which is key for the empowerment of people and especially those who are low-competent and with limited opportunities to access formal education.

Parliament's report has also put the spotlight on the role of teachers and educators, who are the pillar of our education systems. We have to keep in mind that the digital revolution is very challenging for them. 

Students expect to learn digital skills at school, and their teachers need to be capable of not just using new technologies, but also of teaching with and about them. We need digitally confident teachers in order to have digitally competent young people able to use new technologies in a critical and creative way. 

Investing and supporting the professional development of educators is therefore crucial in achieving good results in terms of education and skills development. We should be aware that the up skilling of all teachers is a prerequisite for the successful delivery of the skills agenda.

Finally, I believe we should also learn lessons from the implementation of the youth guarantee. With no EU investment behind it, there is no guarantee that this new initiative will make a real difference.


About the author

Momchil Nekov (S&D, BG) is Parliament's co-rapporteur on the new skills agenda for Europe

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