EU integration through the EU’s “Skills year-2023”

New Commission’s skills-initiative for 2023 seems to be too complicated to deliver within just a year: it is involving all three existing “division of competence” between the EU and the member states. Some, as the education policy, is almost fully in the states’ competence shared; however, the initiative touches upon important issues vital for the EU and the states: e.g. boosting competitiveness, assuring qualified education and facilitating support in funding and assistance in the states in “dealing with skills”.  

In a constantly moidernising workforce, besides some international aspects, other issues of EU integration, such as national SDG strategies, recovery-resilience plans, etc. are becoming vital in dealing with the new European skills agenda. In the Commission’s President State of the Union-2022 address, the idea to make 2023 the European Year of Skills has been proposed in order to strengthen cooperation with the states, labour market authorities and companies to match modern skills with people’s aspirations. As soon as the process is time consuming, another solution is to attract talents in needed skills from around the world to the European continent. The EU institutions will discuss present Commission’s proposal before any necessary legal instrument(s) will be approved.

References to the President State of the Union address: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/speech_22_5493

Skills: concept and definition
Quite often the terms ‘skill’ and ‘competence’ are used interchangeably; however, there are big differences: e.g. some argue that “competence” is a combination of knowledge, skills, and personality traits; whereas “skills” is just one of the three elements of competence. However, in contemporary socio-economic development the “skills” are becoming more useful and adaptive; presently, they are even more important than qualifications provided the active use of modern learning processes’ transformations with the numerous online resources and tools.
As soon as “skills” are becoming a common denominator for the workforce’s ability and competence, the recruitment agencies are keeping track of already available and also missing personal skills for a certain employment; the latter is the basis for re-skilling and re-training.
Reference to: https://www.ag5.com/what-are-skills/

However, the process of re-skilling is a difficult and complex issue: e.g. the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report said that about half of all employees will need re-skilling by 2025 focusing on the adoption of new digital technologies and applications. Hence, modern “skills-tracking software” is often regarded as valuable tool in a company’s arsenal to make the process of re-skilling workforce easier.
Source: https://www.ag5.com/reskilling-revolution-50-of-employees-will-need-reskilling-by-2025/

There are some basic things about re-skilling workforce for the future of work, as technological progress and changing economic conditions have forced employees to adapt and “re-skill” almost continually. This re-skilling process involves learning new technologies, developing unique expertise, or simply mastering new methods of performing old tasks.
As soon as finding needed skills is becoming more difficult (present educational systems can hardly cope with the progress) it is becoming vital for big companies and employees in general to provide necessary re-skilling programs. In this regard, so-called skills matrix software can be a valuable tool for re-skilling, allowing employees to track workers’ existing skills and identify gaps that need to be filled.
More on skills matrix software in: https://www.ag5.com/skills-matrix-software-fix-your-teams-underperformance/

The initiative’s goals in boosting competitiveness
Having the relevant skills empowers people to successfully navigate through the labour market changes: a workforce with the skills that are in demand also contributes to sustainable growth, leads to more innovation and improves companies’ competitiveness.
The skills issues’ agenda has been influenced recently mainly from two sides: from global challenges and from the national growth strategies-priorities. Hence, on one side, the national skills agenda is subject to changes in the workforce inspired by sustainability, circular economy, green and digital transitions, etc.; on another side, the skills agenda is to be correlated with the actual national recovery-resilience plans and strategic priorities. Finding a right balance between the two is a complicated task for national governance structures –not only for education and training ministries but for all sectoral socio-economic development sectors and scientific community.
Commission proposes to give a fresh impetus to lifelong learning by:
= Promoting more effective and inclusive investment in training and up-skilling to harness the full potential of the European workforce, and to support people in changing from one job to another.
= Through cooperating with social partners and companies, making sure the availability of new skills are relevant for labour market needs.
= Matching people’s aspirations and skill-sets with opportunities on the job market, especially for the green-digital transition and the national economic recovery. A special focus will be given to activate more people for the labour market, in particular women and young people, especially those not in education, employment and/or training.
= Attracting people from third countries with the skills needed by the EU, including by strengthening learning opportunities and mobility and facilitating the recognition of qualifications.
Requirements for new skills are coming almost every year and months: e.g. at a recent digital summit in Tallinn, Commission President underlined some priorities: e.g. the EU shall support the member states “in case of disruption of critical infrastructure with very practical things – like fuel supplies, generators, shelter capacity; all these things have to be in place”. But do the states have the workforce capacity to deliver?
Citation from: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/da/speech_22_6063/ 10.x.2022.

However, currently more than three quarters of companies in the EU report difficulties in finding workers with the necessary skills, and latest figures from Eurostat suggest that only 37% of adults undertake training on a regular basis. The EU Digital Economy and Society Index shows that 4 out of 10 adults and every third person who works in Europe lack basic digital skills. In addition, already in 2021, occupations ranging from construction and healthcare to engineering and IT had shortages, showing a growing demand for both high and low-skilled workers. There is also low representation of women in tech-related professions and studies, with only 1 in 6 IT specialists and 1 in 3 STEM graduates being women.
https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_22_6086

Thus, the member states have endorsed the EU-2030 social targets: e.g. at least 60% of adults should participate in training every year; the states have already presented national contribution to meeting this target. It is also important to reach the employment rate target of at least 78% by 2030. The 2030 Digital Compass sets another EU-2030 target: at least 80% of all adults should have at least basic digital skills, and there should be 20 million employed ICT specialists in the EU, while more women should be encouraged to take up such jobs.

EU funding and assistance to invest into skills
Significant EU funding and technical support is to be available to support the states’ investment in up- and reskilling; supporting measures will include five main funds:
= The European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) with a budget of more than €99 billion for 2021-2027 is the EU’s main instrument for investing in people.
= The Recovery and Resilience Facility will support states’ reforms and investments, including in the area of skills and jobs. In the national recovery and resilience plans about 20% of the social expenditure will be dedicated to “employment and skills”.
= The Digital Europe Program with about €580 million for development of advanced digital skills will provide “strategic funding” in supporting the development of “skilled talent pool of digital experts”, while at the same time enhancing cooperation among the states in digital skills.
= Horizon Europe underpins skills for researchers, entrepreneurs and innovators, notably through the EU-wide Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, the European Innovation Council and the European Institute for Technology.
= Erasmus+ with a budget €26.2 billion supports, among other goals, the personal and professional development of learners, staff and institutions in vocational education and training through funding mobility activities and partnerships for cooperation across Europe. It also funds European Universities which are pioneering the development of micro-credentials for training, up-skilling and re-skilling.
Additional programs that support skills development include the InvestEU program, the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund for displaced workers, the European Regional Development Fund, the Just Transition Fund, the European Solidarity Corps, the Programme for Environment and climate action (LIFE), the Modernisation Fund, the Technical Support Instrument, and the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument.

Commission’s college opinion
Several members of the Commission’s college underlined vital aspects of the “year of skills”: e.g. Executive Vice-President for the “digital age”, M. Vestager noted that “creating solutions for the society with technology that helps in peoples’ daily life takes expertise; it is time for actions and the European Year of Skills will help focusing our efforts on enabling people to learn.”
Vice-President for “promoting European way of life”, M. Schinas, said that “attracting people with skills needed in the EU, including by facilitating the recognition of their qualifications, will be a key priority for the Year of Skills. Furthermore, skills acquired in Europe can be transferred to other countries, and Europe can play a strong role in transferring knowledge and new knowledge to where they are needed most.”
Commissioner for “jobs and social rights”, N. Schmit, noted that “during the Year of Skills, we have an opportunity to connect the needs of labour market-oriented training and labour shortages. To make sure that the transition to a carbon-neutral economy is truly fair and inclusive, we need massive and immediate investment in people’s skills. Having the Year of Skills will have a significant effect in pushing forward the skills revolution we need in Europe.”
Commissioner for “research, innovation and education”, M. Gabriel, said that: “the Year of Skills will equip people with relevant skills to match the labour market needs, the goal which goes hand in hand with training; hence the EU will support more efficient and inclusive funding for re- and up-skilling as well as training, with the aim to ensure developing talents to their full potential.”
Commissioner for the “internal market”, Th. Breton, underlined that “Europe’s strength resides in talented engineers, researchers and entrepreneurs; to achieve the EU’s goals in digital decade and “green deal”, the states the EU will support companies, in particular SMEs, in hiring, training and keeping talents. The EU will be creating partnerships for skills in the industrial systems, from the automotive, aerospace and defence, to tourism”.
References to: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_22_6086

Another direction: supporting skills development
The EU institutions will be engaged in numerous initiatives to support skills and increase their take-up, including:
= The European Skills Agenda, as the framework for EU skills policy cooperation, will continue to help individuals and businesses develop more and better skills and to apply them. As part of the Skills Agenda (under the Pact for Skills), more than 700 organisations have signed up and 12 large-scale partnerships in strategic sectors have been set up with pledges to help upskill up to 6 million people.
= Through a “structured dialogue” with the states on Digital Education and Skills, the Commission also proposed to address EU skills shortages and improve migration cooperation. The roll-out of an EU Talent Pool and of Talent Partnerships with selected third partners will help match the skills of candidates to work in Europe with labour market needs; the trend is a key deliverable under the New Pact on Migration and Asylum.
= The New European Innovation Agenda, adopted in July 2022, proposes a flagship initiative and set of actions to create the right framework conditions for talented people.
= The European strategy for universities, adopted in January 2022, proposes a series of 50 actions that would help to develop high level and future-proof skills for a wide range of learners, including lifelong programs, to become creative and critical thinkers, problem solvers and active and responsible citizens.
= The European Digital Skills and Jobs Platform (as an initiative under the Connecting Europe Facility Program) offers information and resources on digital skills such as a digital skills self-assessment tool, as well as training and funding opportunities.
= The EU Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition tackles the digital skills gap by bringing together the states, social partners, companies, non-profit organisations and education providers to raise awareness and encourage organisations to take actions to encourage digital skills training and boosting digital skills.
Source: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_22_6086
EU’s education in the world
In the global universities 2023-rankings, which included about 18 hundred universities in over 100 countries and regions in the world, the European universities are still lagging behind other regions. Thus, only 15 European universities are placed among the world’s top 50 higher education institutions: including, Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (41), Belgium’s KU Leuven (42), Germany’s Heidelberg University (43), France’s Paris Sciences et Lettres Research University Paris (47) and Karolinska Institute (49) in Sweden. The ranking is based on 13 performance indicators that measure an institution’s performance across four areas: teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook. The UK’s University of Oxford has topped an international university league table for the seventh year in a row, while two other British universities also made the top 10.
Source: Euronews.next, 13.x.2022 in: https://www.euronews.com/next/2022/10/13/oxford-topped-the-world-university-rankings.

The global education-research balance (an analysis being prepared during last two decades by the Times Higher Education), has shown that “educational power” is presently shifting from the traditional US dominance in favor of other states and regions with e.g. China’s credentials improving.
Reference to: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/world-university-rankings-2023-results-announced

One concluding remark concerning the present initiative: according to the EU basic law, education policy is the sole competence of the member states; the EU institutions can only “support, coordinate or supplement the actions of the member states” (art. 6, TFEU), and “without superseding their competence in these areas” (art. 2, p.5, TFEU). The Treaty adds that “legally binding acts of the Union adopted on the basis of the provisions of the Treaties relating to “coordinating areas” such as education, shall not entail harmonisation of the member states’ laws or regulations. That means that the only feasible legal instrument available to the EU is, actually, a comprehensive directive or/and recommendation.
Source: Consolidated version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, TFEU.
However, “skills” are much more than a vital part of national education policy; the issue is an integral part of the science-research component concerning proper functioning of the single market. In this regard, it is part of the EU’s shared competence with the states.
Hence, the whole Commission’s initiative is grounded in the elaborating an adequate continental strategy to dealing with global/European main modern challenges like carbon neutrality, green energy, sustainability and digital, circular economy, “green” transport and mobility, etc. New skills shall be prepared for delivering these challenges…With all the respect for the Commission’s initiative, its goals cannot be reached within a year or so; the EU institutions and the states governance shall indulge in a revolutionary change in education and innovation.
More in a series of EII’s article on “educational revolution” in: https://www.integrin.dk/category/education-and-training/

More information about the initiative in the following Commission web-links: = Proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council on a European Year of Skills 2023, and = Website – Skills and qualifications.

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