One of the main goals in educational reform is to provide contemporary social-economic development with required skills and profession to tackle modern challenges. In dealing with recovery-resilience plans, as well as “green”, digital strategies and the SDGs implementation, the states are introducing fundamental transformation in the national education policies adequate to modern employment trends and workforce requirements. Never before educational reforms have had such a vital role in national social, economic issues and political orientations.
Modern facets in national socio-economic development instigated by such issues as, e.g. the EU’s twin transition and the member states’ recovery-resilience plans are based on quality education in new skills and/or re-skilling processes. Supplemented by the restructuring of the education process towards sustainability, circular economy and digitalisation, the new skills agenda reflects one of the basic elements in educational revolution. Therefore, the seventh part in the series of articles on modern education is dedicated to important –although only some- issues involved in developing new skills, re-skilling and employment transformations in changing labour markets.
Contemporary national education policies are under severe press from several sides: from both global challenges (e.g. climate and sustainability) and European ones (twin transition and post-pandemic recovery), all of which require new approaches to educational goals and purpose.
Among numerous existing approaches to education: e.g. as a process of facilitating learning, acquisition of knowledge, providing skills and integrating values, sustaining morals and beliefs, etc. (in other words, generally, the “art of bringing up a person”), in modern content education is about providing adequate knowledge and skills relevant to changing labour market and employment. Hence, educational goals are increasingly encompassing new skills needed for reformed national political-economy and growth patterns. Additionally, vocational education and training is to be used as a complementary means focused on direct and practical skills necessary for community-oriented, workplace-based and national socio-economic priorities, preferences and basic settings.
New educational methods, regardless of national variations, include improving quality and efficiency of education process towards providing the labour market with effective and relevant skills and professions in solving apparent socio-economic problems. Global community has already formulated some education initiatives aim at achieving SDGs, in particular through the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG-4), which promotes quality education for all; the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, presented a new vision to address the environmental, social and economic challenges facing the world community.
More on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the UN-2030 Agenda, including SDG 4 on education in: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education.
On workforce and labour market in E. Eteris “European future: main challenges in modern integration process”. Lambert Academic Publ. 2021, part V, pp. 38-43. https://www.morebooks.shop/gb/translation_bundle_42004ea0740.
Education reforms in the socio-economic context
Presently, the purpose of education is defined by an adopted national development strategy (the place), the needed workforce (whom to teach), existing education-providers’ quality (who are the “teachers”), the educational programs (what is taught), and national education system’s adequacy to changing developmental needs and employment. There are enormous current challenges that all states are facing; effective resolution of such challenges requires new strategies and approaches tailored towards efficient workforce, skills and knowledge to be required in new political-economic paradigm. In this sense, adequately taught future workforce, at the respective age with the respective teaching methodology, shall be complemented by the novel technological computation and information retrieval technologies.
Present employment and workforce management in the EU-27 is a complex and controversial issue; it is to be noted that, on one side, responsibilities and competences for employment and social affairs are primarily within national governance (the EU only supports and complements states’ efforts); on another side, however, it is the Commission that coordinates and monitors national policies in promoting and training skills and entrepreneurship, creating quality jobs and helping workers to find jobs (both in their own and/or another EU country). Formally, in developing skills the Commission has adopted three main directions: digital skills, language skills and entrepreneurial skills.
General reference to Commissioner for employment and social affairs web-site at: https://ec.europa.eu/info/topics/employment-and-social-affairs_en, and the EU “skills agenda” at: https://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/tools/skills-intelligence
Present analysis on current and future skills and labour market trends according to each national economy sector in the EU-27 presents a varied situation: for example, in business sector future employment growth generally in the EU-27 is estimated at 9,5 points, with -3.9 for Bulgaria (as a regional minimum) and about 25,7 (as a maximum) for Denmark, Luxembourg, Ireland and Slovakia.
Thus, “skill mismatch” (a new term differently understood in the states) is affecting almost all sectors of workforce, not only those looking for a job; however employers in the Europe are generally still unable to fill vacancies despite high unemployment.
Thus, economic crisis of 2008-09 has made skill mismatch worse; due to weak employment demand, people were taking jobs below their qualification or skill level. Surveys made at that time showed that around 25% of highly qualified young adult in the EU have been so-to-say overqualified for their job: those graduating after 2008 were almost twice as likely to be overqualified for their first job as those who graduated between 1991 and 2000.
Main trouble was that the economic downturn undermined the long-term potential of the EU’s skilled workforce. Unemployed people returning to work have been also more likely to enter less skill-intensive jobs that may not develop their skills; 42% of adult workers looking for a job in the years following the crisis had few opportunities to find jobs suitable for their skills and qualifications. Source: https://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/blog-articles/matching-skills-and-jobs-europe-insights-cedefops-european-skills-and-jobs-survey.
Predicting skills trends in rapidly changing labour markets is a cornerstone of national governance and educators: e.g. twin transition will require some new skills which are not yet prepared for the market; Europe is going through the digital and green transitions while being further challenged by the coronavirus pandemic. Thus, high quality continuing vocational education and training (VET) would be priority in education policy for years to come. The Cedefop’s skills index-2022 not only assessed the performance of European skills systems and existing improvements in slowly converging skills development systems (even though there is still a long way to go until full convergence is achieved among EU-27), it also highlighted the following areas where the states should take additional efforts: a) skills development, b) skills activation, and c) skills matching.
General skills statistics at Cedefop: https://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en and in: https://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/themes/skills-labour-market.
See also: https://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/themes/skills-policies-practices
New skills and qualifications to assist SDGs implementation
Two sides of the “skills’ issues” have entered national education agenda: on one side, new education’s guidelines are closely connected to the implementation tools in the EU’s twin transition (with the need of new re-skilling, new skills and qualifications in transition’s directions), on another side, the SDGs implementation suggests that the labour force would be equipped with adequate knowledge and skills. No doubt, without preparing specialists in new spheres of development, adequate professions, skills and re-skilling in digital/green transition and sustainability growth the member states’ efforts would hardly be successful…
Present EU-27 socio-economic growth is heavily dependent on highly educated and competent people, which are supposed to perform all needed tasks. Besides, skills in creativity, critical thinking, initiative’s taking and problem solving play an important role in coping with complexity and changes in a modern society. Hence, already in 2017, the Commission in its reflection paper on “harnessing globalisation” recognized the need for new ways of learning, as well as more flexible training and educational models, in order to tackle the labour shortage and increasingly mobile and digital employment.
Reference: European Commission’s paper on “harnessing globalisation”, in: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/publications/reflection-paper-harnessing-globalisation_en
The “new skills” approach is to be included both in the private sector and –more vitally –to be extended to public service and top governance structures: i.e. economic and political leaders, high-ranking civil servants are often criticized over their performance when it comes to modern challenges, such as climate change, digitalisation and/or sustainability; they lack professional education adequate to new patterns in political-economy, inspired by SDGs. In some states due attention is paid to civil servants re-skilling through newly created “public administration academies”.
Modern public policies need changes and adjustment: for example, peoples’ dedication to cars shows little sign of abating pollution challenge: over 40 percent of those surveyed in the US said gasoline-powered vehicles should never be banned. In the EU-27 states, Germany ranked second, with 34 percent of respondents opposed to a ban; these polling showed the resistance generally to the notion of phasing out gas-powered vehicles, with investment in environmentally friendly infrastructure instead topping the list of most popular climate investment measures. The survey often found that most citizens believe their countries aren’t doing enough to help poorer countries tackle climate change and should increase support for global energy transition.
In the corporate sphere, the need for combining traditional “business management training” and new approaches to modern entrepreneurship is evident. Among fundamental challenges facing modern business structures are those including: a) modernising business and socio-economic orientation while “converting” national economies on sustainable way through digital transformations, changing working conditions and business regulations, while preserving peoples’ health and wellbeing.
Transformations in education providers
Present EU efforts emphasize the importance of “European social dimension” in acquiring the right set of skills and competences to sustain new socio-economic patterns in living standards, while taking into consideration global competitive arrangement. Thus, the European ideas on strengthening European identity through education and culture, has been materialized in the establishment of a European Education Area by 2025.
However, initially, the EU member states in December 2017 expressed their quite modest intention “to do more in the area of education”. The then EU Commissioner for education and culture’s issues (Tibor Navracsics) argued that although education had been the responsibility of the states, the EU works to “step up union’s cooperation”. Modern education potentials shall be used in building resilient societies, creating a sense of belonging and enabling people to experience numerous variations in the European identity. Hence, the idea of a “true European education area” has appeared, which, among other things, would be boosting language learning, ensuing that diplomas are recognised in all Union states, that European universities maximize their cooperation, and that studying in another EU country becomes easier than ever before. Thus, very concrete steps are needed in the member states towards making EEA a reality.
See more in: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-18-388_en.htm
Europe’s most used and well-known skills’ resource, the so-called Europass, was established in 2005; since then, tens of millions Europass CVs have been created and hundreds of thousands of learners across the EU received diplomas and certificate supplements which help to make their qualifications more readable and easily comparable abroad.
The Europass was adopted according to the EU-global challenges: Europe’s prosperity depends greatly on citizens’ qualification and skills; and fast-changing global economy requires often new skills as a driving force for competitiveness and growth.
European Commission has adopted a number of proposals revising graduates’ so-called “Europass papers”, which have been quite suitable tools to assist transparency of skills and qualifications across the EU-27. These “papers” consist mainly of a Europass CV and a recognized EU-type acquired diplomas and certificate’s supplements; often new Europass includes online tools and could be consulted in the EURES job mobility portal.
The revision process was part of the “new skills agenda for Europe”, adopted in June 2016; the “single European framework for the transparency of qualifications”, so-called Europass, was established by the Decision 2241/2004/EC of the European Parliament and the Council already in December 2004.
Note: This Decision establishes a single Community framework for achieving the transparency of qualifications and competences by means of the creation of a personal, coordinated portfolio of documents, to be known as ‘Europass’, which citizens can use on a voluntary basis to better communicate and present their qualifications and competences throughout Europe (art. 1).
The new Europass “framework for qualification transparency” was intended to provide an easy and accessible “tool” to help people identify and communicate their skills and qualifications in all EU languages. These include an improved online tool for creating CVs and skills profiles, free self-assessment tools to evaluate personal skills, tailored information on learning opportunities across Europe, as well as providing information and support in getting personal qualifications recognised; often the Europass can navigate an applicant through the labour market system with information of skills in demand in any EU state. Thus, the “Europass framework” also links with other EU tools and services in labour market, education and training systems, such as the EURES job mobility portal, allowing for an easier exchange of information and more joined-up services for end-users.
See Directive (entered into force in 2005) in:
The member states’ skills-supporting centers will offer individual advice and guidance to help graduates “navigate acquired skills” and qualifications through the national labour landscape.
In this way, through the “Europass framework of the right skills” the EU citizens can fully exercise their potential: new Europass gave people tools to showcase their skills and qualifications in a user-friendly way and access to information and support services to inform their choices about study and work across European states.
Coordination in the common European education area
According to the EU treaties, education (as well as culture, sport, tourism and even industrial development, to name a few) is a supplementary and coordinating activity of the Union’s institutions. The legal presumption that the EU can only “coordinate” education process in the member states seems inefficient, i.e. additional measures are needed. The main reason is digitalisation, quick changing in needed people skills and new professions, as well as finding additional financial support. Besides, common “European education area” (EEA) is urgently needed to tackle such issues as mutual recognition of diplomas, additional language learning, a quality framework for early childhood education and care, a European “agenda for culture”, and a new EU “youth strategy”.
European societies and economies are experiencing significant digital and technological innovations as well as labour market and demographic changes. Many of today’s jobs did not exist a decade ago and many new forms of employment will be created in the future. In the “White Paper on the Future of Europe”, the Commission highlighted “it is likely that most children entering primary school today will end up working in new job types that do not yet exist” and that coping with this “will require a massive investment in skills and a major rethink of education and lifelong learning systems”. Citation and references from: European Commission’s “White Paper on the Future of Europe” (2017) in: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/white-paper-future-europereflections-and-scenarios
Helping career and learning choices: two new instruments
Making new skills available and visible in paramount for modern political economy: people in EU presently have a lot of new ways and opportunities to learn, work and find jobs; however, new tools and services for skills and qualifications shall help them to use skills and experiences in new and innovative ways. The states can provide useful information on learning opportunities and skills trends in different sectors and they can support exchange of information and better understanding of skills and qualifications. These tools and services are essential to facilitate transparency, mobility and ultimately employability. This initiative, one of the ten actions proposed by the New Skills Agenda for Europe adopted by the Commission in June 2016, seeks to ensure that EU tools and services for skills and qualifications equip people and organisations with the support and information they need to find their way on the labour market or for further study.
For example, Europass is effective since January 2005 to encourage transparency of skills and qualifications, in particular to facilitate mobility. During last 17 years, these tools and services have been updated several times to reflect the needs of users in a changing labour market, as well as in education and training sectors. Europass was built upon largely static templates; its central objective remains to make it easier for people to exchange and understand information on skills and qualifications, but it will now also make full use of new technology and ensure links with other services to better respond to people’s needs. It is important to mention that Europass continues to serve the needs of all individuals including those who may not have access to online tools. Source: https://europa.eu/europass/en.
The new Europass Decision sets out two key planks to the evolution of the service:
Firstly, the new Europass will offer a wider range of tools and services through a user-friendly online service. Europass will help individuals with their career management, and assist their decisions on education and training pathways and enable them to describe their skills to employers, education and training institutions and other interested organisations. Europass will offer tools such as an improved CV-builder for documenting skills and qualifications, free self-assessment tools and information on skills and qualifications, including trends in skills needs across Europe. It will be compatible with other services so that users can easily manage and share information with other systems such as online application forms for jobs or with social media.
Secondly, the new Europass will also embrace the use of open standards for topics such as learning opportunities, descriptions of programmes and skills. This work will be done in a way that complements other existing standards, creates consistency and makes sharing of information easier. The use of these standards will strengthen the ability of the EU “skills panorama”, for instance, to produce real-time and accurate information through internet and data analysis on particular trends; the online services will be complemented by services at national level.
Through targeted consultations with the states’ governance, social partners and civil society, discussions were organised to define the scope and priorities of the EU Skills Agenda; some policy networks, e.g. Europass centers, European Qualifications Framework and national contact points, Euro guidance network, etc. have been created during these discussions. The Commission provides an online platform offering the main services and bringing together a number of existing complementary EU portals for skills and qualifications, e.g. the portal “Learning Opportunities and Qualifications in Europe”, Skills Panorama and Europass portal.
The Europass online service delivers a range of linked services for skills and qualifications through a single portal. The Commission also encourages more synergy, coordination and sharing of expertise and good practice between national services supporting skills and qualifications. Commission is already supporting a number of national centers by funds from the Erasmus+ program; e.g. Europass and the Skills Panorama are managed by the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop).
More in: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-16-3212_en.htm?locale=en
Higher education and the labour market’s evolution
Inherent connections between higher education and the labour market are becoming ever more important concern for students: while job markets will vary, students remain practical in their perception that a university degree serves to elevate their economic and social status. Unemployment is seen as a big threat in the future and the university’s role in teaching students to be “market ready” will continue to be significant. Students are also looking beyond the financial benefits of employment towards fulfillment and reward from their chosen area of work. Thus, the “fluid options of lifelong learning” present many opportunities for continuous growth and development beyond the “four walls of the classroom”; students are aware of the need to re-skill and up-skill to maintain stable employment. Reference to: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=2022012509225275.
Most important in educational reform are digital issues: newly adopted EU legislation on the so-called “chips act” unveiled an ever-biggest Union’s subsidy program (besides agriculture) for both vital industrial sector’s development and the preparation of the new skills and professions. The Commission pointed out the act’s headline perspective: to boost development of the most advanced and most energy-saving semiconductors by investing €11 billion in public-private partnerships, PPPs that will finance education, research and innovation in this sector.
Thus, with the inclusion of private venture capital, the EU hopes to secure €15 billion for the PPPs; besides, together with other investments in microchips’ research by national governments, the total figure would reach €43 billion.
The EU has instigated the member states governance to activate the process of quicker chips development. Thus, by offering a lot of EU funds (in order to attract factories to Europe), on top of the EU’s €11 billion support, the member states can use their own resources: from research to acquiring expensive machines needed for the production of chips; the EU will soften state aid rules to allow for additional national subsidies. Actually, in order to secure chops’ supplies a new mechanism would allow the EU to pressure manufacturers to keep the flow of chips coming to Europe, even in times of dire shortages; the measure would come through the Commission “toolbox”, which would secure the entire supply chain to avoid current supply shortage in chips. The risks involved are felt around the world: e.g. China, the US and the EU have announced plans to subsidize microchip production. The EU’s powerful competition commissioner M. Vestager noted that the EU institutions would ensure that “subsidy races” did not take place among the EU countries (but didn’t excluded exceptional moves in a new era of subsidized production). The Commission will giving in to the EU countries seeking more leeway to subsidize digital industry in order to allow public support in digital research and production subject to strict criteria, because microchips are so crucial for the EU and states’ priorities, for the “green deal and the digital transition.
The EU “digital plan” seeks to boost research and education facilities, as well as actual manufacturing of tiny semiconductors and chips used in electronics, in cars and smartphones in the member states. At a time of global/regional chip-shortage, the entire economic development is slowing down; hence, the security of supply in most advanced chips has become EU-27 economic and geopolitical priority. For example, in the 20th century steel was the basis of states’ economies; this commodity has been fighting for to control production and supply; presently, it is microchips that are the heart of the century’s growth in any modern state. However, as soon as the bulk of microchip production is in Asian region, it has exposed the EU-27 manufacturers to massive bottlenecks lately: thus, car-makers reported billions in losses as they had to stop production due to a chips shortage; there are some concerns that chips will remain a hot issue in political economy as tense relations between China and the US are growing. As soon as presently about half of the world’s total microchips and up to 95 percent of the most advanced chips come from Taiwan, potential Chinese invasion of the island could further complicate the EU’s access to chips (the EU official did not publicly acknowledge it, but the member states are still worried).
Labour market and education policy
In the years to come, the EU states are deeply involved in realizing national recovery and resilience plans (already approved by the Commission) with strong attention to circular economy and sustainable development. Besides, the states have to address national priorities, which often include reformed structural policies, accelerated green and digital transitions, climate change measures, etc. All that challenges have to be transformed into transformation of the labour market and employment circumstances and finally be included into the educational reforms.
For example, solutions for tackling remote work (often called “teleworking”) and online education would provide for presenting new sources of information for new skills and re-skilling. Thus, the green transition, while focusing on progress towards sustainable economies (in line with the Paris Agreement and the UN-2030 Agenda) provides for strong orientation in education policies towards preparing adequate workforce and specialists in public and private management. On the other hand, the recovery and resilience’s dimension focuses on new factors in political economies with completely new approaches to public authorities’ qualification and knowledge; only that can help the states in their efforts to withstand the crisis and prepare for future crises.
Strong interdependencies among social, economic, political and environmental issues influence greatly education policy’s outcomes and effects.
Modern educational challenges are of a triple nature: a) to explore more liberal and comprehensive education process, b) providing a broad-based education at undergraduate level before students enter some specialized studies, and c) formulating new courses and modules for newly appeared shills and professions. This is why new efforts and measures are needed for promoting a global-European-type of higher education in the EU states, encouraging quality, open and distance learning, as well as broader ICT use at all levels of education and training. Educational revolution has to “tailor students” for society’s needs and prepare skills for jobs that not only slightly visible today but which are most likely to change or completely disappear; most of the present education courses and programs in the European states’ universities are outdated and counterproductive.
Well-designed national recovery packages, coped with long-term education and training policies, could both repair the damage caused by pandemic and set the states on a stronger, greener, inclusive and more resilient paths, ready to tackle all possible crises. However, at the core of all recovery measures shall be the issues of peoples’ wellbeing and national sustainable strategies.