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Member of the European Commission for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
Youth and Jobs: How Erasmus+ can help
Forum on Youth & Employment – European University of Cyprus
Nicosia, 21 March 2014
Ladies and gentlemen,
I'm delighted to be here with you today for this Forum on Youth and Employment. I would like to thank the European University Cyprus for organising the event and for so kindly inviting me to speak.
Given the way youth unemployment in Cyprus has soared to more than 40%, there can be few issues of greater concern to this audience.
There are certainly no easy answers to this problem.
The skills challenge
I would like to reflect with you on the education and employment challenges young people are facing today and what we, at EU level, are doing to address such challenges.
I would like to mention in particular our policy work and some important features of our new Erasmus+ programme which I launched earlier this year.
I am confident that the approaches being talked about at EU level can offer at least some hope here.
In today's world, a person's ability to find a job – their employability – is more than anything linked to their education.
Data indicates that young people who have a degree in higher education are more likely to find a job than those who have only completed secondary education.
This trend is expected to continue, and indeed to intensify, with the number of low-skilled jobs declining and high-skilled jobs growing in the years ahead.
According to recent forecasts, in the next ten years, close to half the jobs on offer in the EU will require high-skills while barely one out of ten will be low-skilled.
It is also clear that there will be a real need for certain generic professional skills like leadership and management skills and for more specific skills like market assessment.
Scientific subjects are also essential. The demand for a qualified workforce in the fields of technology and research will remain high.
We need a much greater effort to ensure that STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills are in good supply.
In addition, more and more employers require 'soft' skills or interpersonal skills such as self-confidence, adaptability, the ability to work in a team, a sense of initiative, foreign language skills and intercultural understanding.
At the same time, a key competence we must all have is learning to learn - the ability to pursue and persist in learning and to be aware of our learning needs.
In a world of constant change – workplace change, technological change and social change – no one can afford to consider that their learning days are over when they leave school or college.
EU policy on education for employability
From a policy point of view, this has led us at European level to urge Member States – who are responsible for their national education systems - to radically rethink their education systems to ensure that young people get the skills they need to be employable – skills in demand on the labour market.
The crisis has served to underline how our education systems are not currently fit for purpose. Without real change, they will be even less so for the world of the future.
I have impressed upon Europe's Education Ministers the need to reduce the number of school drop-outs and to increase the number of higher education graduates.
We have set targets across the EU as part of our Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs: by 2020 we want to reduce the number of early school leavers to less than 10% and to increase to at least 40% the number of young people with a degree in tertiary education.
This focus on educational reform and employability implies a whole series of measures including better training of teachers; more ICT in the classroom; changes in the curricula; more mobility and learning exchanges; and closer partnerships between our universities, business and research.
Over the past year and a half I have outlined such measures in a series of policy papers on Rethinking Education; on Opening up education to the digital era; and on the internationalisation of European higher education.
And from this year, I have launched Erasmus+, our new programme for education, training, youth and sport to support Member States as they make these necessary changes.
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.
In times of recession, firms are more insistent on hiring staff who can quickly get up to speed. Universities and schools are convinced that they prepare their students well for work.
However, surveys show that only a third of employers share that view. Could it be that part of the problems lies in a shortage of the right skills?
One thing is certain: Governments, social partners and education & training providers need to invest in the development of modern curricula that include quality traineeship schemes, work-based learning in school or in companies, and apprenticeships.
How can Erasmus+ help?
At EU level, our funding programme Erasmus+ focuses mainly on learning mobility and aims to reach out to more than 4 million people, helping them to study, train, and work or volunteer abroad.
This will include 2 million higher education students, 650 000 vocational training students and apprentices, and more than 500 000 going on youth exchanges or volunteering abroad.
Students planning a full Master's degree abroad, for which national grants or loans are seldom available, will benefit from a new loan guarantee scheme run by the European Investment Fund.
Erasmus+ will also provide funding for staff mobility, and for partnerships between universities, colleges, schools, enterprises, and not-for-profit organisations.
We will support mobility both for the intrinsic benefits it brings to those who are mobile – but also for the way in which it can help to spread innovative practice and lead institutions to modernise their education offer.
The architecture of Erasmus+ is based on the understanding that all forms of learning – formal, informal and non-formal – are complementary, enriching and should lead learners to fulfilment in both private and professional life.
Learning and work experience abroad
In addition to learning mobility exchanges, Erasmus+ will increasingly support work placements abroad.
Teaching and training staff who go abroad play a crucial role in "fertilising" their home institution with fresh materials and methods, and building contacts. They also develop intercultural skills which are vital in today's globalised world.
European cooperation projects
We also know from the past about the difference European cooperation projects can make, by bringing new ideas and approaches to national reform processes not only at political but also at the grass-roots level.
Business and industry anyway tend to think in terms of transnational supply chains and not national ones. European education and training projects need to adjust curricula to this reality and such projects help prepare graduates for a European labour market.
The European labour market also needs tools for recognition of qualifications and a common understanding of quality assurance in education and training.
Erasmus+ projects will promote the development of tools such as the qualification frameworks, credit transfers, quality assurance frameworks and validation and recognition of skills and competences.
What is also of crucial importance is narrowing the gap between the world of education and the world of work. Our aim is to contribute to this goal.
Two new forms of cooperation are being supported for the first time: Knowledge Alliances for higher education and Sector Skills Alliances for vocational education and training. These are designed to reach out to the labour market and make graduates more employable:
Our ambition with Knowledge Alliances between the academic and business worlds is to develop new, innovative and multidisciplinary approaches to teaching and learning.
Through them, we also want to stimulate the development of entrepreneurial skills of students, academic and company staff.
Knowledge Alliances could for example bring academics and students to production and research sites and in turn bring experienced industry staff from the factory to the classroom.
Our ambition with Sector Skills Alliances is to provide learners with the skills required by the labour market by ensuring that VET systems keep pace with labour market needs.
The Sector Skills Alliances will also help to design and develop work-based learning and apprenticeships to facilitate the transition from education to work.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Ultimately the responsibility for education, skills and employment policies lies at national level. But the EU can and does drive change through policy-making and funding programmes like Erasmus+.
The significant increase in the budget allocated to Erasmus+ in these times of austerity and budget cuts serves to underline the importance that the EU attaches to education, training and youth policy.
To maximise our impact, and help our youth maximise their own potential, we have to work closely in partnership with governments, educational institutions, industry and of course young people themselves.
I look forward to the day when all our young people will be able to make full use of this potential for their own success and the success of Europe.
I wish you an enjoyable Forum.