The Committee of the Regions (CoR) argues that validation procedures for skills acquired outside the official education system are part of much needed changes to the European model for vocational education and training. The recognition of these skills can help creating more flexible education systems, in turn leading to greater mobility among the labour force and enhanced employability. Quality assurance and common standards for their validation procedures should therefore be ensured EU wide. These are the key messages of an own-initiative opinion led by Marek Olszewski (PL/EA), Mayor of Lubicz, which was adopted today by CoR members meeting in plenary session.
Skills and competences are acquired not only through formal education but also through learning outside this formal framework. This involves the informal acquisition of competences resulting from daily activities related to work, family or leisure (e.g. ICT skills acquired outside work, skills acquired through volunteering or cultural and sport activities), as well as "non-formal learning" referring to activities where some form of learning support is present but without accreditation of the acquired skills (e.g.in-company training, online learning).
EU Member States have committed to develop national procedures for the recognition and validation of non-formal and informal learning by 2015 but, as mentioned in the CoR opinion, "there is still a substantial gap between these declarations and the reality on the ground", with some EU countries and regions still lagging behind in the field. The CoR therefore urges the EU institutions to address this issue in the context of the upcoming revision of the Europe 2020 Growth Strategy and to deliver promptly on their commitment to create a European Area of skills and qualifications acquired not only through formal but also non-formal learning.
In this regards, rapporteur Marek Olszewski emphasises that: "When analysed in their EU dimension, the recognition and validation procedures of non-formal and informal competences and skills greatly differ according to the country or region considered, with more than 100 different definitions existing at national and regional levels. There is therefore a strong need to create a pan-European strategy, for instance taking the form of guidelines. The aim is to work toward a common framework so as to facilitate the creation of relevant national procedures and ensure that certificates obtained through the validation process are mutually recognisable throughout the EU. Common quality standards also need to be set up for the recognition procedures."
The CoR emphasises that cities and regions have key responsibilities for education and training policy across the EU, whilst being a valuable source of knowledge when it comes to employment opportunities and available non-formal and informal education. This is why their involvement is essential when designing and implementing arrangements for the validation of non-formal and informal learning, as well as in making sure that skills provision matches employment requirements.
While placing due emphasis on the need for common quality standards, CoR members also call for validation procedures to be clear and not overly complex so as not to deter those wishing to formalise their learning outcomes from doing so. In order to achieve the ambitious goals set out by the Europe 2020 Strategy, it is also vital to acknowledge the importance of recognising and validating skills acquired through non-formal and informal learning in the context of lifelong learning. Learners however need to be put at the heart of lifelong learning policies, an approach which should guide the effective use of resources for the development of education and training. Finally, the CoR calls for a sufficiently broad and comprehensive information policy to be put in place, targeting the public and businesses and informing them of the advantages of validating skills.
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