In this interview, Csaba Borboly (RO/EPP) answers six questions on the European Skills Agenda for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience. The president of Harghita County Council is the rapporteur for a draft opinion that asks the Commission to revise the approach set out in its recent communication and take into account the major role cities and regions play in supporting and developing skills-related infrastructure in most Member States. The draft opinion will be put to the vote at this week's plenary session on 3-5 February.
In your opinion, you welcome the newly launched Pact for Skills. The Pact aims to bring together a varied range of stakeholders who have impact throughout the value chain. In this respect, how can local and regional authorities (LRAs) contribute to its implementation, with a view to developing common strategies and training schemes?
The European Commission should recognise the role of local and regional authorities as owners of the relevant local infrastructure, as beneficiaries of both EU funds and national and regional support, and as the main gateways to local and regional communities. They play a major role in funding education and developing skills-related policies. If the European Commission acts to build direct links with LRAs interested in fast-tracking EU funds for pilot projects, the actions could be carried out much more quickly and efficiently. Local and regional partnerships between LRAs, expert groups, employers' representatives and education and training providers are also the most rapid way of understanding how regionally embedded skills acquisition works effectively. Such partnerships can drive local and regional change by building knowledge, understanding and trust and by involving all the different stakeholders.
Vocational and technological education both need practice and are tied to places and educational facilities, much more so than digital, language and other soft skills. Can you identify best practices in some regions that can inspire new initiatives in other regions?
Yes, there are plenty of good practices in European regions. First of all, digital skills and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects have become a must in vocational education and training (VET), and most professions need advanced ITC and digital skills, for instance to operate state of the art machinery or equipment. There are 3D modelling, alternative and virtual reality solutions in some Member States, so the digitalisation of VET is not the future but the present in parts of Europe, such as German, French and Irish regions.
In most Member States, LRAs play a major role in funding education and developing skills-related policies. Are LRAs ready to take on tasks related to the 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?
I consider that LRAs are ready to take on tasks related to the fast-tracking of EU funds, since they play a major role in funding education and developing skills-related policies at local level. Several LRAs in the European Union are responsible for directly managing subordinated institutions in different areas, such as hospitals, cultural centres and mountain rescue services to name just a few from my region, Harghita County. With their public and political responsibilities and experience in budget management, managing fast-tracked EU funds to implement skills-related projects would be feasible. With key responsibilities for education and training policies, as well as an important role in youth and employment policies at local level, cities and regions can launch programmes, pilot projects and support measures for all of these areas related to the objectives of the Skills Agenda.
During the COVID-19 crisis, most education systems have responded quickly and flexibly to new challenges, and some Member States have rapidly accelerated the digitalisation of education. Nevertheless, in some less well-off regions and in disadvantaged communities, access to digital tools has been an issue as there are still areas with poor internet access. What can the EU and LRAs do to join forces and tackle these locally embedded problems, which are only barely reflected in general regional or national data?
The opinion on the Skills Agenda that we are working on highlights that any EU policy intervention must be in keeping with the regional context, and that a "one-size-fits-all" approach does not work. The proposal builds on the experience of several regions in terms of access to digital tools, which has been crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are several ways the EU could support all regions to ensure that no-one is left behind. First of all, there is a need for an integrated approach to shaping funding measures: delivering digital education goes beyond funding educational platforms and training in digital skills, and includes infrastructure such as access to broadband in less well-off regions, computers and laptops. Secondly, the EU should increase cooperation and the exchange of experience between education systems and different curricula based on people's needs and address the issue of access by socially excluded or vulnerable people to high quality education and training. Last but not least, the European Commission should consider setting 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.
In your opinion you underline the importance of the European Green Deal and its consequences for employees in most sectors. How can policies help employees gain a clear understanding of the changing world and see clearly that they should seek new opportunities and build resiliency?
EU policies should facilitate the launch of support programmes addressing specific economic areas and specific target groups in sectors affected by the green transition. Such programmes must inform employees in energy-intensive sectors about the challenges and opportunities caused by the digital and green transition. To support target groups, firstly there is a need for a better understanding of regional skills-related needs and opportunities for each sector, in particular car manufacturing, construction, building services, design and creative industries, pharmaceutics and the food sector. Secondly, there is a need to create opportunities for upskilling and/or reskilling low-qualified adults to help them enter or remain in the labour market. This would help avoid high unemployment rates and possible austerity policies. With regard to resiliency, the focus should be not only on current employees but also on students, who should acquire such skills during their school years.
During the preparation of your opinion, various consultations were held, for example the written online stakeholders' consultation and online bilateral meetings with the European Commission and the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP). Regarding your consultation with CEDEFOP, what were the main points of concern raised during the discussion? What actions and planning did they propose in order to help the Commission concentrate on local and regional issues and to pinpoint the role of LRAs?
During the consultations with different stakeholders, we received very useful proposals that helped us to prepare this opinion. CEDEFOP highlighted the fact that it is important to reach out to lower skilled people. As local and regional authorities are most familiar with their areas, they are in the best position to reach people and address local challenges. Therefore, policies need to be differentiated and to take into account local features. Furthermore, initial VET, which is largely centralised, needs to involve different types of partnerships with educational and training institutes, NGOs and companies, to name just a few. LRAs are best placed to organise these links between partners at local level.
In July 2020, the European Commission presented the new European Skills Agenda, which aims to improve the relevance of skills in the EU in order to strengthen sustainable competitiveness, ensure social fairness and build our resilience. It sets ambitious targets for upskilling (improving existing skills) and reskilling (training in new skills) to be achieved within the next five years. For example, 50% of adults aged 25-64 should sign up for training courses every year and 70% of adults aged 16-74 should have at least basic digital skills by 2025.
The Pact for Skills launched by the European Commission in November 2020 is a shared engagement model for skills development in Europe, involving both the public and private sectors. Signatories agree to abide by and uphold the key principles of the Charter: 1) promoting a culture of lifelong learning for all, 2) building strong skills partnerships, 3) monitoring skills supply/demand and anticipating skills needs and 4) working against discrimination and for gender equality and equal opportunities.
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