The European Parliament’s report on the New Skills Agenda for Europe focuses on the need for closer cooperation between the education sector and the labour market in addressing the existing skills mismatch.
It stresses the importance of a holistic approach to education and skills development that embraces dynamic economic and social changes.
Statistics show that there are currently 70 million people in the EU that lack the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy. At the same time, over 30 percent of highly qualified young people have jobs that fail to match their talents and aspirations.
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I believe that we should tackle this in three main ways. First, we need a forward-looking vision for skills development. By 2025, according to the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, CEDEFOP, 49 percent of all job openings (both new and replacement) in the EU will require high-level qualifications, 40 percent medium-level qualifications with only 11 percent for low or no qualifications.
It is obvious that equipping people with minimum skills would not be enough to bridge the gap. It is crucial to encourage every individual to acquire advanced skills and competences to be able to adapt to the future; stimulating participation in lifelong learning is critical.
Similarly, we need better-coordinated policies between labour market needs and education to ensure better anticipation of future skills needs. Second, the report also underlines the need for a greater emphasis in the Agenda on the importance of non-formal and informal learning in reaching out to and empowering learners.
We should acknowledge the significant progress made in recent years in the context of the Council recommendation on validating non-formal and informal learning by 2018.
“It is crucial to encourage every individual to acquire advanced skills and competences”
However, the provision of real access, recognition and sustainable financial support remains a challenge. I believe the main obstacle for establishing validation systems in member states is their low priority in the political agenda.
This is a paradox, as the soft skills that employers look for, such as communication, problem solving and resilience, are gained outside the formal education system.
Third, I believe we should go beyond promoting the ‘right occupational skills’ and focus on those aspects of education that are more work-based and practical. Here, I fully support the Commission’s approach in highlighting the potential of vocational education and training (VET) to address the skills mismatch and the EU’s high unemployment rates.
The Parliament’s report also stresses the need to modernise European VET systems in line with dynamic labour market needs. I share the view that we should stimulate development of dual vocational systems and the value of work-based learning.
There is a need to make VET more attractive by ensuring that young people and their parents have access to information on VET options. We should also strengthen vocational and career guidance practices in all education systems.
Finally, we should be aware of the important role parents play in shaping their children’s career path. In my own country, Bulgaria, parents want their children to go to university rather than following a vocational education and training path. It is a question of prestige; there are similar attitudes in other European countries.
This why people often make a distinction between vocational education and training schools on one hand and universities on the other. In reality, however, we don’t have to make that choice - young people can decide to go to a vocational college and later to continue to higher education.
As the European Parliament’s rapporteur for the skills report, I would like to pass on the following message: young people and their parents should be aware that with a fast-changing labour market, a university degree does not automatically guarantee a job.
This is why one of the key messages is the need for closer collaboration between VET and higher education providers, to ensure a successful transition of VET graduates to higher education.
We also need to work more closely with parents, given their impact when it comes to choosing a career pathway for their kids. Finally, if we want to have a better picture of the real added value of VET, we would need a system for large-scale tracking of VET graduates at European level providing a more evidence-based approach.