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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]


Member of the European Commission for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

Getting youth on the right path to bridge the skills gap

Launch of McKinsey Report on 'Education to Employment: Getting Europe's Youth into Work'

Bruegel institute - Brussels, 13 January 2014

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to join you today for the launch of the McKinsey report "Education to Employment". I would like to thank McKinsey and our hosts Bruegel for their kind invitation.

It is an invitation that I accepted gladly, because this report goes to the heart of the skills and employment crisis that Europe is experiencing – and that the European Commission is doing its utmost to help its Member States to address; we do so both through policy proposals and the provision of financial support.

In the past few years, we have put forward a number of policy initiatives aimed at helping Member States to bridge the gap between the skills people have and the skills the labour market needs. We made a comprehensive strategic proposal for reform in the Rethinking Education communication; we have provided ideas on how to embrace the digital revolution in education through Opening up Education; we have also put forward concrete suggestions on how European higher education systems can modernise and make the most of the opportunities offered by internationalisation.


In terms of funding, Erasmus+, our new programme for education training, youth and sport, helps us take on these challenges - with a bigger budget than in the past – by matching spending priorities with core EU policy objectives. Its overarching objective is to improve people's skills, especially those of young people, and give them a better chance of finding sustainable employment. Erasmus+ addresses this at three levels: individuals; organisations and institutions; and systems. It focuses on learning mobility, partnerships, and dialogue and cooperation among policy makers and stakeholders.

Both the policy and the funding elements of our work call for strong cooperation between the world of work and the world of education. This is crucial if we want to place education for employability at the core of Europe's policies – a point that I have been making for years.

I am happy to see a similar call for cooperation in the McKinsey report. In fact, the same point is made in a new DG EAC study on graduate employability completed last December. Our study provides an insight into what European employers expect from higher education graduates, primarily from the employers' perspective.

For its report McKinsey has talked directly to young people, employers and training providers in eight EU countries. The resulting picture, based on empirical evidence, offers real added value, and is a welcome and useful addition to the body of research informing current policy action at different levels.

I would like to highlight three themes in the McKinsey report which are key to our current strategies for promoting growth and jobs.

The first is the issue of bridging the skills gap.

This report indeed underlines the point that we are confronted not so much with a job crisis as with a skills crisis. In spite of the high number of jobseekers, many employers are unable to fill vacancies, because they cannot find people with the right skills. Indeed, the evidence from the recent PIAAC survey on adult skills as well as the results of the PISA 2012 student survey, show Europe's skills gap to be a determining factor in current unemployment rates. In addition, forecasts1 show that in 2025, 44% of employed people in the EU will be in a highly-skilled job, while only 11% of jobs are expected to be low-skilled ones. Clearly, action is urgently needed in order to bring our skills-set up to scratch. Education and training systems must reform and innovate, both to increase quality and to better match the requirements of the labour market.

We need to target skills development where it is most needed. That is why EU initiatives such as the Sector Skills Alliances in VET and Knowledge Alliances in higher education are designed to involve employers in curriculum design. And this is why the European Alliance for Apprenticeships aims to improve standards of dual and work-based learning, and to raise the attractiveness and recognition of VET and apprenticeships across the EU.

Secondly, we need more flexible learning pathways in order to enable individuals to acquire higher and more relevant skills, including transversal skills such as digital, entrepreneurial and language skills. This implies taking down existing barriers between sub-sectors of education and training – to enable learners to move freely between VET and higher education, or non-formal and informal learning.

McKinsey focuses on the importance of transparency – an area where we are making inroads at EU level, for instance thanks to the European Qualification Framework. The EQF is a tool designed to support lifelong learning and mobility in all levels of education. Twenty-one countries have already implemented the EQF as a translation device to make qualifications more readily understandable to employers, individuals and institutions across countries, systems and sectors. Alongside this, a common vocabulary for employers and educators is being developed through ESCO - a common multilingual European vocabulary on occupations, skills, competences and qualifications.

We have recently launched a consultation on a new initiative: the European Area for Skills and Qualifications, which we hope will help to further increase flexibility and transparency in this area. Our starting point is that all Europeans should be able to have their competences and qualifications quickly recognised when they want to move to a new job or to further learning, within their country or across borders. The public consultation is now open until April to collect the views of stakeholders.

[Youth Guarantee]

And finally, the report serves to underline why the highest priority for policy-makers at all levels, from EU to local government, and for all actors must be on tackling youth unemployment. Its effects are the biggest legacy of the financial crisis, and the most difficult to overcome. That is why the Commission is making an unprecedented effort to help Member States to address the situation.

I already mentioned Erasmus+. In addition, the Commission is urging all Member States to provide all young people with opportunities for good-quality employment, continued education, apprenticeship or a traineeship offer within four months of leaving school or becoming unemployed: the so-called Youth Guarantee. The European Social Fund can be used for this. And in those areas where youth unemployment rates exceed 25%, the Youth Employment Initiative offers additional funding where it is most needed to implement the Youth Guarantee.

Ultimately the responsibility for education, skills and employment policies lies at national level. The EU can – and does - act as an initiator and driver of change through dialogue, evidence-based policy, funding and country specific policy recommendations. To fulfil this role, we need good, reliable data and information. The McKinsey report brings a valuable contribution to our knowledge base.

Thank you.

1 :

CEDEFOP, Roads to recovery: three skill and labour market scenarios for 2025, Briefing Note, June 2013. The data refer to the baseline scenario.

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