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European Vocational Skills Week

As politicians here argued over the finer points of the Brexit deal last week, Brussels was busy hosting the Second European Vocational Skills Week. I was there to give Edge’s perspective on ‘Promoting the Vocational Skills Agenda – Together’. 

It was a busy day with over 450 people attending. In the morning, the big auditorium was full and there were two further rooms where participants could follow the presentations and panel discussions via video link. The theme of the day was ‘Collaboration’. Employers across Europe are giving out the message that they don’t have access to the workers they need and to the skills they require. Meanwhile, training providers and universities say that they prepare young people for the world of work. Clearly there is some kind of translation issue. The thinking behind the event was to bring together education and businesses to speak a common language and achieve a common goal.

The day kicked off with a presentation given by Marianne Thyssen, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility. She talked about the timeliness of high quality vocational education and training, the right to education, training and lifelong learning and the challenges of globalisation and innovation: To close the skills gap we have to close the divide between education and businesses.

The morning session set the scene for discussions about education and businesses working together and the role vocational education and training can play to support young people to further learning or into employment. The afternoon sessions focused on the skills and VET research agenda to further strengthen the evidence base.

In the afternoon we worked in small groups of 5-7 to identify and discuss research ideas that could blossom into new programmes like Horizon 2020 and Erasmus. Usually when researchers get together we talk about what research we are doing or have completed. This event was a rare exception - researchers getting together to discuss potential areas of future research that we consider should be part of the post-2020 EU research agenda. It was greatly appreciated that the EU invited researchers to contribute to the development process. We had 11 parallel discussions all with a specific focus – from Digitisation of VET to Lifelong learning and teacher training. 

I participated in the ‘Inclusion’ focus group. While there has been substantial research about early school leavers, NEET and youth unemployment at EU level, recently this area has attained even greater focus. There has been an emerging idea that instead of talking about inclusion, perhaps we should talk about full participation as an aspiration. It is about everybody - all age groups, all abilities, disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged. There was agreement that VET is key to reduce youth unemployment, but its effectiveness also depends on the labour market. We also discussed how VET should be more inclusive, while the labour market often forces trends in the opposite direction. 

You can find out more about the event at: https://webcast.ec.europa.eu/european-vocational-skills-week-day-ii#