Social partner consultation on a New Skills Agenda for Europe
The Commission has expressed its interest to hear the social partners in what priorities should be included in the Skills Agenda that is expected to be launched in May 2016. Eurocadres is a cross-sectoral European trade union representing nearly six million professionals and managers in Europe. Our core interest is to ensure that high-skilled people are also taken into consideration in this agenda.
General framework/Upskilling adults
1. Do social partners agree with the relevance of the issues and priorities identified?
We support the overall goal of everyone having the opportunity to attain a minimum level of skills. This means that everyone should have the right to free and accessible education. Defining and setting the minimum skills can, however, be problematic. Setting a minimum level for digital skills will inevitably be difficult: do you have enough digital skills when you know how to operate a computer or when you know coding? We feel that instead on focusing quantitative results, we should focus on improving accessibility to obtain those skills.
We are of the opinion that education and training is essential before and throughout the working life. We feel, however, that all social partners should be involved in designing curricula and work-based learning – not only employers. The sole purpose of education is, however, not to satisfy labour market needs, but to provide people with general knowledge. Therefore, students’ and teacher associations/trade unions have to be involved as well. Nevertheless, the social partners can provide new insights to the curricula.
Making it easier for individuals to become self-employed is important. We think it is positive to raise entrepreneurship skills, but we cannot completely shift the responsibility from employers to individuals in tackling unemployment.
Mobilising quality business-education partnerships is of importance. Cooperation between employers and educational institutes is crucial in many ways. Students can take up internships in businesses in the region to gain work experience, while companies can benefit from common research projects.
Promoting performance-based VET funding is in our opinion dangerous. Of course we need to have performance indicators in place, but by making performance the key priority might endanger teaching quality. Funding cannot be the sole driving force for quality and efficiency. The foremost goal is to have quality assurance in place.
We can fully support that access to continuing VET (C-VET) must be improved for workers. It is important that employers offer the possibility to professional development for all employees. High-skilled employers also need training. It is an investment both for the employer and employee.
Informing about labour market outcomes of education and training is relevant, but not the whole truth. From the time young people make the choice of what to study till they graduate, the labour market needs may look completely different. We should not blindly focus on economic outcomes when guiding young people in their study and career paths.
More opportunities for mobility periods abroad has always been of importance to Eurocadres, both for students as well as for working adults. Erasmus+ is an excellent tool for students, but under-utilised in some parts of Europe. For workers there is a possibility for posting. Be that as it may, the main problem is the recognition of experience gained abroad (e.g. education, training, informal learning, work). Many employers do not de facto give value to foreign experience.
Education and training should be enriched with new research-based and industrial knowledge, with an aim to enhance cooperation between social partners and education. Eurocadres believes that a strong European economy will be reached by supporting higher education and research. We see this priority as highly important. We need cooperation across all kinds of institutional and regional borders to create new innovations and foster growth.
2. Which solutions to the issues identified would social partners propose?
We support the ETUC's proposal of a Professional Skills Guarantee. Member states would be able, together with the social partners, to set definitions for professional skills and qualifications. In this way national basic skills could be defined and access to them improved. A European platform could then make these skills comparable.
We need clear action plans on better encouraging interaction between the social partners and higher education institutions to reach a better functioning labour market. National competences need to be taken into account though. The labour market needs the higher education institutions and training centres to plan courses for reskilling and upskilling adults.
Supporting and encouraging mobility is a key priority for Eurocadres. The Erasmus+ programme is not sufficient enough for boosting students’ mobility. The funds are not always enough to cover basic costs or there is a threat that the study credits will not be recognised. The Commission should pay attention to this problem. Also, cross-border labour mobility is low in the EU. Less than four percent live and work in another EU country. We would like to see better tools and better cooperation between member states to enhance and support labour mobility in both ways: both incoming and outgoing. At the moment people do not reach the vacant jobs and there are problems in recognising foreign qualifications.
The Blue Card is an under-utilised tool in Europe, that could better facilitate an influx of skilled migrants to fill in the gaps on the European labour market. Here, again, we have to dare to start recognising qualifications from outside the EU. However, before we start opening the EQF to qualifications awarded by international sectorial bodies or multinational companies, the member states need to implement the objectives of the EQF and use it to enhance transparency instead.
3. In particular, given poor employment and social prospects for the low-skilled, what can be done at European level to help them attain higher levels of skills and qualifications?
Because employees on all levels need upskilling and reskilling, we support that everyone should be entitled to education and training to fill the vacancy gaps. Continuous skills development should be guaranteed to all European citizens. A degree completed a decade or a few ago might not fill the current needs of the labour market and therefore the employee might need upskilling and reskilling.
Developing national skills strategies should be left for the member states and social partners to decide upon. The Commission can only assist in outlining European recommendations. It is also important that there are European funds available for developing such strategies.
4. What can be done to better understand labour market needs and trends, including at regional/local level?
Europe is suffering from a substantial skills mismatch: between 25 to 45 percent are either under or over-qualified. It is true that many highly-skilled occupy medium-skilled jobs or even low-skilled jobs, due to a distortion on the labour market. To achieve desired skills and to fill existing and potential vacancies there must be different opportunities and choices available for people. The social partners have an important role in identifying labour market needs and trends. It cannot be stressed enough that training centres and higher education institutes have to be involved, together with the social partners, on the regional level to achieve a right balance in matching people and jobs. Also, there must be possibilities available for distance learning, open educational resources (such as MOOCs) and e-services. These qualifications have to be recognisable for the employers.
5. In which ways can the social partners contribute to and support the different initiatives?
As it is clear that the Skills Agenda is focusing on labour market needs, the involvement of the social partners is crucial. For example, trade unions can initiate education and training courses at work places and it is a positive investment for employers to support such initiatives. Also, it is positive that the Commission would like to improve the functioning of public employment services to everyone, not only the unemployed. The social partners should be involved in the career service planning to assist in fulfilling the labour market needs.
6. Do social partners agree with the relevance of the issues and priorities identified?
Insufficient transparency of individual national qualifications and insufficient comparability of national qualification systems are obstacles for smooth labour mobility. Many countries are protective of their national criteria which can hinder talents with other EU/foreign qualifications to fill vacancies.
A lack of permeability of education and training systems is still a problem. The Bologna Process is far from reached and the utilisation of ECTS credits has not solved the issue of credit transfer.
Lack of transparency and comparability of international qualifications is an obstacle on individual level. There are many professional qualifications that could in practice be universal, but stumble upon national obstacles. For example, someone with foreign master’s degree in psychology would not be qualified to practice as a psychologist without additional national training and official (costly) recognition/translation of the degree. Therefore, it is of outmost importance that degrees, skills and qualifications are comparable and recognisable.
Lack of comparability of qualifications awarded in the EU with third country qualifications is an obstacle for attracting talent to Europe. Recognition of degrees and qualifications is at the core of a functioning dynamic labour market. Member states have difficulties in implementing qualification frameworks, which slows down the flexibility of the labour market. Therefore, the most important initiative from member states would be a better use the qualification frameworks to support recognition.
Lack of use of information on comparability of qualifications for recognition decisions, absence of coordination and information on recognition decisions at European level, vacuum in European cooperation mechanisms of recognition of qualifications are all interlinked. We see that there is a problem of information-sharing between member states and this is something that could be supported more on European level. The Internal Market Information System (IMI) is a good tool for exchanging information on regulated professions, but needs more visibility. Also, it is necessary to re-evaluate all the regulated professions – some of them are over-regulated.
7. What obstacles are faced by organisations (employers, education institutions, etc.) when trying to evaluate qualifications from other countries
a) Specific to qualifications from EU countries
Especially the comparability to national qualifications is an obstacle. Also a lack of trust in qualifications from other EU countries is a problem. Validation of non-formal and informal learning is also not working.
b) Specific to qualifications from Non-EU countries
It seems that there is lack of effort to compare the qualifications obtained from foreign universities with national frameworks. The absence of functioning comparability tools is the biggest obstacle in practice. As the European targets are already dragging behind, it will be difficult to foresee a rapid process in the recognition of non-EU qualifications.
8. What are the difficulties – if any – caused by specific items when trying to evaluate qualifications from other countries, including:
a) Learning outcomes
The aim of all kind of teaching is to reach good learning outcomes. These should be clearly defined and comprehensive to ensure that the teacher-student goals are reached. Often the evaluation of learning outcomes is missing, and it should be crucial to have these interlinked.
b) Work load (credit, hours, duration)
There are still problems with credit transfers, when for example doing an exchange period abroad. The work load or curricula does not necessarily correlate with that in the home university. Also the degree structures can vary largely depending on member state: for example, a Master’s in civil engineering can have a completely different work load depending on country.
c) Comparability of qualification types
As mentioned earlier, the IMI is a good tool for comparing regulated professions. There is still a challenge comparing other qualifications and this is because the quality frameworks are not transparent or implemented enough for this purpose.
d) Authenticity of qualifications from other countries
Mainly there is a lack of trust in qualifications from other countries.
9. What enablers assist organisations (employers, education institutions etc.) when trying to evaluate qualifications from other countries (useful tools, services, frameworks, etc. including NQFS and the EQF)?
Foremost the EQF needs to be improved. We also support the ETUC that the European Reference Framework on key competences should be better implemented. The framework is, however, already a decade old and could be updated especially what comes to digital skills and entrepreneurship.
10. In which ways can the social partners contribute to and support the initiative?
The social partners should be involved on national level to promote the importance of recognition tools. If we want the labour market to adapt to change and attract talent from abroad, the decision-makers have to be aware that the tools and frameworks have to be implemented.
Better tools and services/Europass
11. Do social partners agree with the relevance of the issues and priorities identified, taking account of their knowledge of/experience with Europass and other tools and services under consideration (Skills Panorama, Learning Opportunities and Qualifications Portal, EQF, ESCO, Euroguidance) – both in relation to their online presence and operation of centres where relevant?
It is a rather ambitious approach to include all of these in the Skills Agenda. We consider that the agenda should focus on the non-technical aspects and save the tools and services focus on a separate agenda. It is an extremely lengthy process to unite all of the different services into one portal. The intention of these tools is to help job-seekers and employers and therefore there is a need to unite these tools into one. As they are now, they are not easily found, some of them are not user-friendly and their potential is not utilised.
12. What information do individuals, such as job-seekers and learners, need when:
a) making education and training choices?
There must be sufficient information available and well-functioning tools and services to guide in the decision process. For example, U-Multirank is a good tool for potential students to make study choices.
b) undertaking job-hunting activities?
There is a need of well-functioning employment services that fulfil the needs of modern job-hunting. A lot of job openings can be found online nowadays and job-seekers fill in their CVs on online platforms. Europass for example is problematic from the individual’s point of view, as it contains five different documents.
13. What information do organisations (including employers and education institutions) need to understand skills and qualifications held by individuals?
There has to be an implemented framework for the recognition of qualifications and how they relate to national qualification frameworks.
14. In which ways can the social partners contribute to and support the initiative?
We see it necessary for social partners to be involved when developing the tools. The social partners are needed in evaluating the relevance of all tools and services.
 Skills mismatch in Europe: statistics brief / International Labour Office, Department of Statistics. - Geneva: ILO, 2014, http://bit.ly/1p1LLdO.