Addressing ‘the Cinderella area’ of education and training
The third edition of European Vocational Skills Week was officially opened by Commissioner Thyssen today - and for the first time, it is taking place outside of Brussels, with a clear thematic focus: the future of vocational and educational training (VET). The aim is to show the value of VET at all stages in life, be it to obtain an initial qualification or to requalify or retrain later in life as an adult. "We wanted to raise awareness about VET opportunities beyond our usual suspects," explains Norbert Schöbel (DG EMPL), chair of the organising taskforce, which also included many other services from DG EMPL, and two agencies - the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) and the European Training Foundation. The aim is to reach as many local and regional players as possible.
This year, the European events are taking place in Vienna. The capital of Austria is a logical choice as the country holds the Council Presidency, providing higher political support than before. It's also the perfect place to showcase excellence and innovation in VET, as Austria is well known for its dual learning system, which combines education in the classroom with training in companies.
Even in Austria, vocational and educational training tends to be the Cinderella area of education
"It's a well-established concept there, but even in Austria, vocational and educational training tends to be the Cinderella area – or neglected area - of education," admits Norbert, "as it still is in many other countries."
The Vocational Skills Week – with workshops, meetings and network opportunities in Vienna as well as many parallel activities and events in over 45 countries – aims therefore to brush up that image, and to make this form of education a first choice for those interested, not an alley of last hope.
Turning to the future
After the first two successful Vocational Skills Weeks, the Commission decided to introduce a few other tweaks to make the format even better. "The feedback was very positive," says Norbert, "but that should never stop us from being ambitious and testing out new ideas." Contrary to previous years, for example, there is one central theme running throughout the whole week: 'VET and the future of work: jobs and skills'.
The Cedefop agency has just finished a project analysing how VET has changed in the EU, Iceland and Norway between 1995 and 2015, and identifying the main future challenges and opportunities. It will be one of the Week's highlights - but, says Norbert: "there are more reasons to turn to the future. The EU's Education and Training Strategic Framework will end soon, in 2020." There will also be a discussion about the Commission's new proposal for Centres of Vocational Excellence, a pilot project to develop a strategic role for VET in innovation and growth strategies.
Not yet like the Oscars
Another change is that the awards ceremony to recognise VET Excellence has been lifted out of the closing conference. "We always had to rush through it in half an hour, but now we can honour the nominees properly," says Norbert. Two award categories have been added: projects under Erasmus+ and those funded through the European Social Fund. "It's not yet like the Oscars," he adds, "but we are going in the right direction. These prizes should become the reference for any awards in the area of vocational and educational training. A bit like the RegioStars Awards, getting coverage on euronews."
The European Alliance for Apprenticeships turns five
What better moment to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the European Alliance for Apprenticeships? This platform brings governments together with key stakeholders in the field of VET training with a focus on quality, offer, image and mobility.
The occasion will be marked with a ceremony – including a birthday cake – in the presence of Austria's and Germany's First Ladies, who act as role models and share inspirational stories.
In the run-up to the festivities, there will be a mini-roadshow with site visits to BMW, a member of the European Alliance, and Munich Airport and starlim//sterner in Austria, two newcomers. In addition to 36 national commitments to the goals of the Alliance, 250 pledges from stakeholders have also been signed so far to strengthen the supply, quality and/or image of apprenticeships, and more than 20 new organisations will join the Alliance in Vienna.
European Alliance for Apprenticeships
Other Vocational Skills Week novelties include an online space to share inspirational stories from the VET world and an Open Minds session, where participants can suggest discussion topics. VET schools or other participating players can now obtain an 'official partner' label so they can proudly display it. "Through this bottom-up approach, we want to make our stakeholders feel more involved."
Currency of the future
That's also why Norbert and his team will head to Finland next year, and hopefully to Germany the year after - the Council Presidency countries for the next Vocational Skills Weeks. "These countries can really take ownership, and decide to organise the week only in the capital, or spread it over different cities to give it a more local flavour."
Norbert is already musing on how to involve more young people and parents next time to raise their awareness about VET opportunities. "But luckily we have already seen a change in mind-set," he says, "especially within companies. In the beginning, it was difficult to get them on board but now they come knocking at our doors. They realise that, as my Director Manuela Geleng nicely phrased it, 'skills are the currency of the future'."
Originally posted on My IntraComm, European Commission’s intranet portal. Written by Miriam Tessens.
- Publication date
- 8 November 2018
- Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion