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European Vocational Skills Week

06 December 2016
by eub2 -- last modified 06 December 2016

The first European Vocational Skills Week, organised by the European Commission, aims to inspire people to discover, use and improve their talents and abilities through vocational training.


Why a European Vocational Skills Week?

Skills are a pathway to employability and prosperity. This is at the heart of the New Skills Agenda for Europe of 10 June 2016, which presented ten actions to respond to the skills challenges in Europe. 

One of the ten actions is to make vocational education and training (VET) a first choice. This requires improving the quality and effectiveness of vocational programmes, but also to raise awareness among young people, their families and adult workers of the opportunities offered by VET, to persuade companies and authorities to invest in the development of vocational skills. 

The recently released Education and Training Monitor 2016 reports that VET graduates generally find a job quicker than graduates from general education (upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary level). On average, 73% of recent VET graduates find a job within three years, against 61% of graduates from general education.  Despite this, for many young people and their parents, VET is still not as attractive as general education pathways. Opportunities for continuing training can allow adults keep their skills up to date over their lifetime, as is necessary in today's labour market and society. However, only one European adult out of ten participates in adult learning. The European Vocational Skills Week tries to draw the attention of all stakeholders to the benefits of the vocational choice for individuals, business and society. 

Why the focus on vocational skills?

Europe needs more and better vocational skills: while every year 13 million people are engaged in VET programmes and 3 million of them obtain a VET qualification, this is not enough to respond to the shortages of people with VET qualifications forecast in several Member States. 40% of European employers report that they cannot find people with the right skills to grow and innovate. Jobs difficult to fill include many that typically require VET qualifications, such as cooks or metal machinery workers. For the European society and economy it is vital to ensure the skills development of young and adult workforce, so that they are able to play an active role in the competitive and rapidly changing labour market of today. Companies need workers with relevant skills and, crucially, the ability to develop them throughout their life in a context where professional skills become rapidly obsolete. 

It should be clear that the concept of "vocational skills" goes beyond the technical, job specific skills related to practical occupations at a relatively low level. While job specific skills remain crucial, to properly do their job workers also need a good level of transversal or soft competences, related for instance to communication, problem-solving and entrepreneurship. For example, a fridge repair technician needs to appropriately understand the customers' problem and explain them the options for solutions – besides of course the technical skills to put solutions in practice. Setting up shop – a real estate agency, a bookshop or a restaurant, a software house or a plumbers shop – requires entrepreneurial attitudes, ability to deal with providers and customers, and people management skills.

What else is Europe doing to make VET a first choice?

The Communication on a New Skills Agenda for Europe announces a number of action areas to make VET more effective and more attractive: 

  •          Increasing support to work-based learning and in particular apprenticeships, which have proven their effectiveness in raising the employability of the workforce. This will be pursued among other by reinforcing the European Alliance for Apprenticeships through the launch of a demand driven support service, supporting countries to introduce or reform apprenticeships systems, developing a quality framework for apprenticeships – as envisaged in the 2017 Commission Work Programme – and support the development of Joint European VET/apprenticeship qualifications through a specific Erasmus+ call.
  •          Supporting better quality of VET programmes, building upon EQAVET, the European framework for quality assurance in VET implemented since 2009. Whilea targeted consultation on a possible revision of the EQAVET Recommendation will be initiated, a specific forthcoming action concerns tracking VET graduates, including a study of relevant experiences and a proposal for a Council recommendation on graduate tracking covering both higher education and VET, along with peer learning activities within a dedicated network.
  •          Making VET pathways more open and flexible, building upon the experience gained since 2009 with the European credit framework in VET, ECVET. Reflection on revision of the ECVET Recommendation has started and will be brought forward, in particular through peer learning on learning outcomes in qualifications and programmes and on coordinating the ECVET and Europass documents that support better preparation and follow-up of VET mobility experiences.
  •          Supporting VET learners' mobility. In particular, following the indication given in the 2017 Commission Work Programme and taking advantage of pilot projects initiated by the European Parliament, a dedicated strand will be defined within Erasmus+ for long-term (6-12 months) work-placements abroad as part of a formal qualification programme. 

How many young people are enrolled in VET programmes?

In the EU in 2014 there were 13 388 000 VET students (54% of total students) in upper secondary education (10 553 000, or 48%), post-secondary non-tertiary programmes (1 448 000, or 91%) and short-cycle tertiary programmes (1 387 000, that is 100%). 

While VET students in upper secondary education are proportionally distributed among Member States, three quarter of students in post-secondary non-tertiary programmes are concentrated in three countries, with about 0.7 million in Germany, 0.3 million in Poland and 0.1 million in Romania. Concentration is also very strong in short-cycle tertiary programmes, where 84% of students are in France (0.5 million), Spain (0.4 million) and UK (0.3 million). 

More information and data source: Education and Training Monitor 2016, in particular Table 3.3.1.

How many young people participate in apprenticeships or other forms of work-based learning?

Apprenticeship systems vary across Member States but they have in common that they formally combine and alternate company-based training with school-based education and lead to a nationally recognised qualification upon successful completion. 

In 2014, at upper secondary level, all VET students in Latvia and Denmark were in programmes where the work-based environment represents more than a quarter of the curriculum. 

The share was about 90% in Hungary and Germany and about 50% in the UK and Austria, with all other countries well below. Data were however missing or non-applicable for several countries. 

More information and data source: Education and Training Monitor 2016, in particular Figure 3.3.2. 

Do young VET graduates find a job easily?

Though the 2008 financial crisis left its mark, still 70% of young people with a VET qualification find a job within three years after obtaining their qualification. The situation however varies between countries, with a third of them above 80% and only a few below 50%. In most countries the figure for VET compares favourably with young graduates from general education pathways (EU average 61%). 

More information and data source: Education and Training Monitor 2016, in particular Figure 3.3.1. 

Can VET graduates access higher education?

The huge majority of VET learners in upper secondary school are in programmes that give direct access to higher education – more than 90% in one third of Member States and above 60% in most of the others. Only in a few countries direct access is limited, usually because VET programmes tend to have a short duration – responding to specific national priorities – and bridging programmes are necessary to allow progression to higher levels.

More information and data source: Education and Training Monitor 2016, in particular Figure 3.3.3.

Source: European Commission