The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on all of us; on our societies and economies and on every aspect of our lives. Employment and education are some of the hardest hit by the crisis, due to lockdowns and measures taken by governments to prevent the spread of the virus and its devastating consequences.
Unfortunately, many people have lost their jobs and many others have been severely impacted by these measures. According to Eurostat data in January 2020, the EU unemployment rate was 6.6 percent, the lowest in the past 20 years. Following the crisis, in September 2020, the unemployment rate across the EU-27 has risen to 7.5 percent. Youth unemployment has unfortunately also risen, from 14.5 percent last year to 17.1 percent.
We currently face an unprecedented task. While we are fighting the spread of the virus and saving the lives and health of our citizens, we also have to focus on boosting economic recovery and employment. Vocational education and training are tools to serve this purpose that can swiftly address skills shortages and labour market demands, thus helping the economic recovery. However, measures need to be effective and well-working.
“It is our chance to take this opportunity - while recovering from the Coronavirus crisis - to implement better, more resilient and future-oriented policies able to respond to the green and digital transitions”
To achieve this, the European Commission has proposed EU-level actions to support Vocational Education and Training (VET) reform, as part of its agenda on COVID-19 recovery efforts. In the Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee, we fully support this action, and call for the modernisation of VET to meet the need for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience.
VET systems have to be accessible to all citizens, including vulnerable groups. All relevant stakeholders need to be involved throughout the whole process of their design and delivery. When implementing new policies, we need to set specific, measurable targets that we seek to achieve to enable us to compare and evaluate the merits and shortcomings of such policies.
The exchange of best practices and data collection will lead to data-based policies that will strengthen the role of VET in the recovery process. Ongoing technological advances and increasing automation are also transforming labour market demands. According to the OECD, 50-70 percent of job tasks will change dramatically because of automation. Many tasks will be replaced and many new jobs will be created.
The VET curriculum has to reflect this in the focus on knowledge-based and up-to-date skills. Another factor that will affect labour markets considerably is the fact that European society is ageing, and the size of the working-age population is shrinking. According to the Commission’s report on the Impact of Demographic Change, the EU’s population is expected to fall by 18 percent by 2070 with different prognoses for different Member States and regions.
Therefore, the key is to making VET more attractive for young people and to promote lifelong learning and vocational education. This way, all workers, regardless of their age, will have the necessary skills and qualifications they need to remain active in the labour market. In 2019, on average only 11.1 percent of adults in the EU aged 25-64 participated in lifelong learning, although the EU target for 2020 is 15 percent.
According to a survey by Cedefop, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, almost half of all respondents believe that VET does not offer as many advancement opportunities as academic training. This perception of VET, as a second choice, particularly in some Member States, needs to be changed. It is up to them to encourage work-based learning and promote cooperation with micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises and all relevant stakeholders. To make VET more attractive, it is essential that we promote mobility through programmes such as ErasmusPro and Erasmus+.
“This way, all workers, regardless of their age, will have the necessary skills and qualifications enabling them to stay active in the labour market”
In the programme period 2014-20, almost €3bn from the Erasmus+ budget was assigned to VET. This has allowed around 130,000 learners and 20,000 staff to take advantage of this mobility opportunity each year. Moreover, Erasmus+ strategic partnerships finance almost 500 VET projects every year. Cooperation and partnership are the right ways to create futureproof and crisis-resistant systems.
For this, we have to ensure that adequate resources at national as well as EU level are available. It is our chance to take this opportunity - while recovering from the Coronavirus crisis - to implement better, more resilient and future-oriented policies able to respond to the green and digital transitions ahead of us all.
To better address current and future demands on the labour market, we need modern and high-quality VET systems that are able to provide job seekers with up-to-date skill sets allowing them to remain employable and competitive in an ever-changing labour world.