Why a European Vocational Skills Week?
Skills are a pathway to employability and prosperity. This is at the heart of the New Skills Agenda for Europe of 10 June 2016, which presented ten actions to respond to the skills challenges in Europe.
One of the ten actions is to make vocational education and training (VET) a first choice. This requires improving the quality and effectiveness of vocational programmes, but also to raise awareness among young people, their families and adult workers of the opportunities offered by VET, to persuade companies and authorities to invest in the development of vocational skills.
VET graduates generally find a job quicker than graduates from general education (upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary level). In 2016, 75% of recent VET graduates who had graduated not more than three years before were employed, against 63% of graduates from general education. Two thirds of apprentices land a job as soon as they finish their studies. Despite this, for many young people and their parents, VET is still not as attractive as general education pathways. Opportunities for continuing training can allow adults both to keep their skills up to date but also to enhance and adjust them in new directions over their whole lifetime, as is necessary in today's labour market and society. However, only one European adult out of ten participates in adult learning. The European Vocational Skills Week will draw the attention of all stakeholders to the benefits of the vocational choice for individuals, business and society.
Why the focus on vocational skills?
Europe needs more and better vocational skills: while every year around 13 million people are engaged in VET programmes and 3 million of them obtain a VET qualification, this is not enough to respond to the shortage of people with VET qualifications that is forecast in several Member States. 40% of European employers report that they cannot find people with the right skills to grow and innovate. Jobs difficult to fill include many that typically require VET qualifications, such as cooks or metal machinery workers. For the European society and economy it is vital to ensure the skills development of young and adult workforce, so that they are able to play an active role in the competitive and rapidly changing labour market of today. Companies need workers with relevant skills and, crucially, the ability to develop them throughout their life in a context where professional skills become rapidly obsolete.
It should be clear that the concept of “vocational skills” goes beyond the technical, job specific skills related to practical occupations at a relatively low level. While job specific skills remain crucial, to properly do their job workers also need a good level of transversal or soft competences, related for instance to communication, problem-solving and entrepreneurship. For example, a fridge repair technician needs to appropriately understand the customers' problem and explain them the options for solutions – besides of course the technical skills to put solutions in practice. Setting up shop – a real estate agency, a bookshop or a restaurant, a software house or a plumbers shop – requires entrepreneurial attitudes, ability to deal with providers and customers, and people management skills.
How many young people are enrolled in VET programmes?
According to Eurostat, in the EU in 2015 there were 13.4 million VET students (54% of total students), of them in upper secondary education – 10.3 million, post-secondary non-tertiary programmes – 1.5 million and short-cycle tertiary programmes – 1.4 million.
The majority of VET students come from one of the several largest EU Member States – for example in 2015 at the upper-secondary level there were 1.2 million VET students in Germany, 1.1 million in France, 1.6 million in Italy and 1.6 million in the United Kingdom.
How many young people participate in apprenticeships or other forms of work-based learning?
Apprenticeship systems vary across Member States but they have in common that they formally combine and alternate company-based training with school-based education and lead to a nationally recognised qualification upon successful completion.
In 2015, at upper secondary level, almost all VET students in Latvia, Hungary and Denmark were in programmes that provide opportunities to acquire work-based learning experience for more than a quarter of the curriculum time.
The share was nearly 90% in Germany and about 50% in the UK and Austria, with all other countries well below. For a number of countries few, if any, students had opportunities to access work-based learning opportunities.
Do young VET graduates find a job easily?
Eurostat data shows that on EU average 75% of young people with a VET qualification find a job within three years after obtaining their qualification. The situation however varies between countries, with a third of them above 80% and only a few (Greece and Italy) below 50%. In most countries the figure for VET is more favourable when compared to young graduates from general education pathways (EU average 63%).
Can VET graduates access higher education?
The huge majority of VET learners in upper secondary school are in programmes that give direct access to higher education – more than 90% in one third of Member States and above 60% in most of the others. Only in a few countries direct access is limited, usually because VET programmes tend to have a short duration – responding to specific national priorities – and bridging programmes are necessary to allow progression to higher levels.
How many adults undertake learning later in life?
While almost everyone in young age accesses education; and almost half of them participate in VET, only one European adult out of ten participates in adult learning. This means, that out of some 270 million Europeans above the age 25, only around 27 million would indicate that they have recently undertaken some education or training.
However to thrive in our fast-changing world, absolutely everyone needs to have an up-to-date and wide range of knowledge and skills – and to keep developing them throughout life. It not only brings benefits for those individuals, but also the companies that employ them, increasing motivation, innovation and productivity. Also the society at large benefits through positive economic and social effects.
What else is Europe doing to make VET a first choice?
The Commission has launched a set of measures to make VET more effective and more attractive, for example:
- The First European Vocational Skills Week (December 2016) and the Second European Vocational Skills Week (20–24 November 2017);
- ErasmusPRO supported by the Erasmus+ programme to boost long duration work-placements abroad for VET learners and apprentices – 50 000 young people could benefit over the years 2018–2020;
- A European Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships – 14 criteria for the design and implementation of successful apprenticeship programmes;
- The European Alliance for Apprenticeships, which has so far mobilised over 750,000 places for young people.