The week for the European Vocational Skills Week kicks off today. The fifth edition of the Week is a 100% online event organised by the European Commission in cooperation with the German Presidency of the Council of the European Union. This year’s theme is Vocational Education and Training (VET) for Green and Digital Transitions, in line with the Commission priorities of a “European Green Deal” and a “Europe fit for the digital age”.
UNI Europa emphasises that efficient VET practices, as well as lifelong learning are key to ensuring cross-sectoral mobility and encouraging flexibility in the labour market. It is especially important in today’s context with both learning methods and skill requirements for different professions changing rapidly with the emergence of new technologies, which have been accelerated in the Covid-19 pandemic.
There is chronic under-investment in preparing Europe’s service workers for the future when jobs are constantly changing. Skills needs in the fourth industrial revolution involve not just IT technical skills, but also cognitive, personal, social, and interdisciplinary skills. To keep track of the challenges of digitalisation on skillsets, to bolster job security and to boost labour market mobility and worker employability, all workers, in all forms of work, must have the right, as well as access to training and competence development on a regular basis without loss of pay. Training needs to be guaranteed to all workers regardless of the size of their company, sector, educational level, task requirements, and geographical location. This includes flagging the need for more funding for both initial and continuous vocational education and training.
The services sectors and workers need a holistic approach where continuous training and lifelong learning are incremental and integrated into everyday working life. At the same time, we need to avoid company specific, non-transferable skills and qualifications. Human skills and competencies like problem-solving and creativity should be promoted as they are transferable, in demand and cannot be replaced by artificial intelligence. Companies must have a process by which skills acquired in the workplace are identified, documented, and accredited as such, so that they can be utilised effectively and fully recognised.
Comprehensive and systematic skills development needs to take place in working life. Workplace learning is crucial to allow every employee to manage the ever-changing demands on their skillset and match the skill requirements of the company. It is important that vocational training aimed at acquisition of new professional qualifications follow from an analysis of the need of new or specific skills. Social partners must be involved in establishing the skills and training required to transition to a fairer workplaces. Trade unions have a wealth of unparalleled experience in identifying training and workforce needs.
The social partners should be involved jointly in company level training activities. Collective agreements, especially at sector level, can provide a beneficial framework that ensures for a level playing field among employers. Sectoral social partners are in an ideal position to overcome the difficulties of predicting and defining future skill needs, due to their proximity to the workplace. At company level, they can then work together with individual employers and workers representatives to define and implement adaptation and reskilling programmes. Collective agreements should be used by the social partners as well as governments as important tools to ensure that all workers have access to training regardless of level of skills, where they live, their age, gender, type of employment or size of company.
Skills support measures need to be redesigned to allow easy and rapid access to funding for the changing skills needs driven by acceleration of changes driven by COVID.