Collaboration with regions and cities will be crucial to the European Union's hopes for a more highly skilled labour force and commercial innovation, Markku Markkula, the President of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), told a high-level audience in Turin on 8 June.
Speaking at the "Changing Skills for a Changing World" conference, which concluded the fourth round of the Torino Process, the flagship evidence-based evaluation tool for vocational education and training policy reform led by the European Training Foundation (ETF), President Markkula said: "There is a dire need for continuous training and innovation, for constantly reinventing the teaching and learning processes, especially in the context of the digital turn", and emphasised that the implications for local and regional government are "considerable" because cities and regions given that they often have "responsibility for education, training and employment".
Marianne Thyssen, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, highlighted the importance of investing in people as a cornerstone for the future of Europe as well as broad cooperation. "For too long we talk about how important it is to work in partnership but struggle to move out of our echo chambers," the Commissioner noted before underlining that the European Commission's New Skills Agenda, a blueprint for sectoral cooperation on skills, "puts together actors who might otherwise not find themselves in the same room – to work on practical and forward-looking shared solutions."
President Markkula welcomed the New Skills Agenda proposed by the Commission in mid-2016 as "important" to efforts to narrow the skills gap in Europe, and similarly voiced his appreciation for the fresh initiatives on school and higher education announced last week by the Commission under its Youth Initiative. He also praised the ETF for its efforts to work with local and regional government in the EU member states and partner countries.
The ETF and the CoR have a long-standing cooperation with local and regional authorities in the Eastern Partnership, which comprises six post-communist countries on the EU's eastern borders: Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, as well as the through the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM). Local and regional politicians from these countries identified economic development – including youth employment – as their preferred priority for collaboration with the EU, under the revised European Neighbourhood Policy adopted in 2015.
In this regard, President Markkula said "economic and social development at local and regional level has a better chance to succeed when working on a decentralised system, where action was taken at the local level, the closest not just to citizens but also to the economic and social specificity of a given region." He continued: "The local level is becoming increasingly important in implementing skills management and often has a more innovative approach, even though local innovative capacities often suffer from weak institutional support."
The importance of the skills agenda is being amplified by the current process of decentralisation in Ukraine, the CoR's president said. "Vocational education and training, and more precisely, market oriented vocational training opportunities for business development is a priority area of cooperation with the new amalgamated communities in Ukraine," he said.