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Opinion Number: CDR 3878/2020
Rapporteur: BORBOLY Csaba
Commission: SEDEC
Status: Adopted
Date: 05/02/2021
 
advocates for the recognition of and respect for the crucial role local and regional authorities (LRAs), and Member States, play in the EU's main policies, and also in the realm of skills, as owners of the relevant infrastructure, as beneficiaries of EU Funds and of national and regional support, and also as the main gateways to local and regional communities. At the same time, regrets the lack of recognition of this role in the current European Commission Communications;

underlines the need to inform employees in energy-intensive sectors about the challenges and opportunities caused by the digital and green transitions and accompany them accordingly;

welcomes with interest the launch of the European Pact promoting joint action to maximise the impact of investment in upgrading existing skills (upskilling) and training in new skills (reskilling). Local and regional authorities must be part of this Pact, working together and making a clear commitment to training for everyone of working age throughout the European Union;

suggests that regional territorial strategies and Green-Deal-related pacts should refer to the skills policy and investments that the region needs. There is also a need for a better understanding of regional skills-related needs and opportunities, analysed for each sector concerned, emphasising low carbon technologies and sustainability, but in particular car manufacturing, construction, building services, the design and creative industries, pharmaceutics, ITC and the food sector;

highlights that, in most Member States, LRAs play a major role in funding education and developing skills-related policies. The Commission should take steps to build direct links with LRAs interested in fast-tracking of EU funds in the form of pilot projects, the formulation of local and regional strategies and action plans, and increased financing for new initiatives, so that actions can be carried out, even if there are no partnership agreements in the medium turn;

notes that, during the current pandemic, most education systems have responded quickly and flexibly to new challenges, and some Member States have rapidly accelerated the digitalisation of education. While there are real success stories in the regions, the Committee of the Regions suggests focusing on:
a. equal access to the new forms of education and training for all, with a special focus on the most vulnerable children and adolescents,
b. removing obstacles in the area of the language, including the language rights of ethnic minorities and the language rights of deaf people, as well as people with hard of hearing using sign language,
c. ensuring that the new initiatives and forms of education have had a positive impact on access to education and training for all, reducing the digital divide and accessibility deficit, so that all people have full access to collaborative tools, regardless of where they are,
d. promoting digital connectivity, particularly in areas with low population density, including technology and educational materials and tools that facilitates access to digital education;

points out that the European Commission's Guidance to Member States Recovery and Resilience Plans of 17 September 2020, under NextGenerationEU, includes "Reskill and upskill" as one of its flagship initiatives together with the adaptation of education systems to support digital skills and vocational education and training at all ages, which entails a new financial perspective for the Member States, and thus for regional and local authorities;

Policy recommendations

notes that LRAs are facing new challenges, in particular with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many new initiatives emerge also every day, as a reply to these challenges. The digitalisation of education and local business are the most prominent examples. The Commission should analyse whether it can set up a European platform with a selection of best practices, which would be accessible to LRAs and which would support the development of adaptation and resilience strategies and action plans, inspiring new local and regional initiatives. Any such initiative would be welcomed and supported by the Committee of the Regions and its members;

highlights that vocational and technological education both need practice and are mostly connected to places and educational facilities, much more so than digital, language and other soft skills. We should start identifying best practices in some regions that can inspire new initiatives in other regions;

10. asks the Commission to revise the approach set out in the communication and take into account the major role LRAs play in supporting and developing skills-related infrastructure in most Member States, because local and regional authorities hold key responsibilities for education and training policy and play an important role in youth and employment policies;

11. underscores that times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupt education and training systems and are often followed by a period of high unemployment rates and economic uncertainty. At the same time, in addition to changes in the labour market from the green and digital transitions, low-qualified adults need urgent support to enter or remain in the labour market . In this regard, the proposed initiatives for skills and vocational education and training (VET) are very much needed in order to ensure the implementation of the 1st principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights on the right to quality and inclusive education, training and life-long learning;

12. looks forward to the upcoming endorsement of the "Osnabrück Declaration" by the EU education ministers with a view to modernising European VET and deepening cross-border cooperation within a European Education Area , and as a means to strengthen the voluntary nature of the recommendation. Underlines to this effect that local and regional authorities must be fully involved in the design and implementation of national strategies regarding adult learning policies;

13. underlines, in light of the COVID-19 crisis, the need to improve digital training solutions and distance learning including for VET and to improve tracking of VET graduates when appropriate, without creating unnecessary administrative burdens. Further points to the need to boost VET's attractiveness and to ensure coherence and synergies between the VET sector and the general education system. Moreover, the CoR calls for a review of the European Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships in order to ensure high quality, diversified and tailor-made apprenticeships: further underlines the importance of equal access and the right to training for all employees;

14. notes that the situation varies widely across the EU, and that this is one of the main challenges when designing and implementing new standards and practices for education and training. These regional disparities are created by the skills gap and mismatch in the EU and are likely to be widened if local and regional policies are not well designed and not financed accordingly. Therefore, the Committee of the Regions reiterates its demand for a more regional focus when assessing progress on the implementation of the new Skills Agenda and VET policy;

15. holds the opinion that any policy intervention must be in keeping with the regional context, and that a "one-size-fits-all" approach does not work. In local and regional-level policy, solutions must be adapted accordingly;

16. points out that the issue of socially excluded or vulnerable people's access to high-quality education and training needs to be addressed, to ensure that there are no barriers to equal access in any of the Member States;
One of the main CoR political priorities for 2020-2025102 is the implementation of the European Pillar
of Social Rights, especially as an instrument for the socio-economic recovery of the EU. The Skills
Agenda is one of the three headline areas of the European Pillar Action Plan. This includes up- and
reskilling, which is strategic for social recovery and job creation.
In order to respond to the EC agenda on skills, the CoR adopted an opinion on the European Skills
Agenda for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience 103. Following this the CoR and
the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL) have agreed that
the European Skills Agenda will be a priority under the Joint Action Plan with Commissioner Schmit.
The joint note of the CoR and DG EMPL sets out the relevant areas for intensified collaboration and
the main instruments, which includes the European Alliance for Apprenticeships (EAfA) which is
focused on the role of regions and cities in providing high-quality apprenticeships in different sectors.
The CoR has co-organised three online roadmap events104 and a high-level conference105 in 2021 with
DG EMPL-EAfA which undoubtedly indicate that regions and cities can act as catalysts for
apprenticeships within the local and regional environment. DG EMPL and the renewed EAfA clearly
recognise the pivotal role of local and regional authorities in the European Skills Agenda. One of the
renewed EAfA priorities for 2021, and also for 2022, published in its Action Plans and planned
activities, is "Mobilising local and regional authorities as catalysts for apprenticeships within the local
business environment."106 In the 2022 Action Plan, DG EMPL-EAfA clearly acknowledges the fruitful
cooperation that took place with the CoR in 2021, through the implementation of the joint DG EMPLCoR action plan on the Skills Agenda and the important role the CoR is playing in this field and wishes
to continue the collaboration in 2022.107
It is evident that the above-mentioned events provide opportunities to move this collaboration to the
next level. Another example is the participation of the new Cities Network for Apprenticeships108 in
the joint EAfA/CoR webinars. The CoR and EAfA will further work together in 2022 and update their
joint DG EMPL-CoR action plan on skills accordingly.
The CoR and DG EMPL, along with DG GROW, have also agreed to jointly promote the Pact for Skills
initiative as a way for the regions to build partnerships with industry and training providers on upskilling
and reskilling of the local population and an online workshop was co-organised during the European
Week of Cities and Regions entitled What can regions and cities do for up- and reskilling with the Pact
for Skills?
The CoR will follow up on the implementation of the European Skills Agenda in 2022. The CoR, though
its SEDEC commission, is willing to adopt an opinion on how upskilling and reskilling can foster social
recovery and job creation from the local and regional perspective. This opinion would be a follow-up
to the previous related CoR opinions on the matter, such as the European Skills Agenda and The
implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights from a local and regional perspective,
incorporating lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. It would also showcase the CoR's strong
support for the implementation of the EPSR and EASE (Effective Active Support to Employment).

THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS



- advocates for the recognition of the crucial role local and regional authorities (LRAs), and Member States, play in the EU's main policies, and also in the realm of skills, as owners of the relevant infrastructure, as beneficiaries of EU Funds and of national and regional support, and also as the main gateways to local and regional communities;

- suggests that regional territorial strategies and Green-Deal-related pacts should refer to the skills policy and investments that the region needs;

- highlights that the Commission should take steps to build direct links with LRAs interested in fast-tracking of EU funds in the form of pilot projects;

- notes that the Commission should analyse whether it can set up a European platform with a selection of best practices, which would be accessible to LRAs and which would support the development of adaptation and resilience strategies and action plans, inspiring new local and regional initiatives;

- notes that regional disparities are created by the skills gap and mismatch in the EU and are likely to be widened if local and regional policies are not well designed and not financed accordingly;

- holds the opinion that any policy intervention must be in keeping with the regional context, and that a "one-size-fits-all" approach does not work.
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