Members' Research Service By / March 22, 2023

Boosting skills with quality and inclusive education [European Youth Event 2023]

Education and training help us acquire the knowledge and skills we need to get the job we want.

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Written by Krisztina Binder.

The European Youth Event will bring together thousands of young people in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, on 9 and 10 June 2023, to share ideas about the future of Europe. This introduction to one of the major topics to be discussed during the EYE event is one of 11 prepared by the Parliament’s Research Service (EPRS). It offers an overview of the main lines of EU action and policy in the area concerned, and aims to act as a starting point for discussions during the event. You can find them all on this link.

Education and training help us acquire the knowledge and skills we need to get the job we want. To ensure everyone has access to quality and inclusive education, the European Union aims to create a European education area by 2025. The EU also helps EU countries to promote key skills and competences, for instance on digital education.

Why action is needed

According to the European Commission, even before the pandemic, 77 % of companies struggled to find employees with the required skills. A quarter of the EU’s small and medium-sized enterprises saw the lack of skilled and experienced staff as their greatest concern. It is estimated that about 46 % of European adults could benefit from learning new skills or refreshing ones they once had but have forgotten. While this high percentage is partially due to people leaving education at a young age, the risks of skill loss and skill obsolescence also extend to those with higher levels of education. In the future, 90 % of jobs in all sectors will need some form of digital skills, yet 35 % of today’s workers do not possess them. There is also a significant shortage of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) studies and careers. Women accounted for only 19.1 % of information and communications technology (ICT) specialists employed in 2021, and only 31.3 % of students enrolled in STEM studies in 2020.  

European Year of Skills 2023

The objective of the Year of Skills is to promote investment in training and converting existing skills to adapt them to new needs across the EU. It involves actors across society, from local authorities to trade unions and companies. The focus is on matching people’s aspirations and skill-sets with labour market opportunities, thus enabling more people, particularly women and young people, to get a job. The 2023 European Year of Skills is expected to support the achievement of the EU targets to have at least 60 % of adults participating in training each year, and an employment rate of at least 78 % by 2030. It also aims to contribute to the EU’s 2030 digital targets – whereby 80 % of adults would have at least basic digital skills and there would be 20 million information and communications technology specialists working.

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Lifelong Learning

Skills development through education and training?

All EU citizens have the right to quality and inclusive education, training and lifelong learning opportunities. These enable us to maintain and acquire new skills, participate fully in society and successfully navigate a fast-changing labour market.

Responsibility for organising education systems and the content of teaching lies with the national governments of EU countries. However, the EU supplements and supports these national efforts and encourages exchange and cooperation between countries. As cooperation continues to evolve, the European Commission’s vision of establishing a European education area by 2025 aims at improving access to quality education, with opportunities to learn throughout our lives, and ensuring we can study anywhere in the EU.

Several initiatives under the European education area umbrella are already under way. A recommendation on blended learning in schools helps EU countries address the consequences of the pandemic on learners, teachers, trainers and schools and to develop a long-term effective, inclusive and engaging approach to blended learning in primary and secondary education. The aim is to help schools to be more flexible and inclusive of a broad range of pedagogical methods, technological tools, learner needs and changing circumstances. An initiative on learning for environmental sustainability encourages EU countries to support education specific to sustainable development and to the green transition towards a more sustainable society – skills currently in high demand. Another initiative, the 2022 European strategy for universities, states that higher education providers should better adapt to rapidly evolving demand for skills on the job market – including to help equip students and adult learners with digital and sustainability skills. An initiative to develop a scheme to certify the learning outcomes of short-term learning experiences, for instance a short course or training session, aims to offer flexible learning opportunities for a wider range of people to develop or update their knowledge. Taking a new approach to lifelong learning, the individual learning accounts initiative recommends that EU countries put people of working age in charge of a budget, to spend on training of their choice, to improve their skills and employability. Other initiatives are being set up, for instance, on graduate tracking, to improve the link between graduates’ skills and competences and the job market.

Promoting learning for digital and language skills

Boosting digital skills is a particular focus of the EU’s digital education action plan. Among the actions lined up, the plan includes the creation of a European digital skills certificate recognised across the EU. It also sets up digital opportunity traineeships, which would provide, for instance, university and vocational education and training (VET) students and recent graduates to boost their digital skills. And the plan encourages women’s participation in STEM studies and careers through, for example, training in digital and sustainable entrepreneurship skills for young women.

Improving language skills also helps us widen our experience and qualifications, perhaps by moving to study in another country and learning throughout our lives. Projects aimed at helping young people to study or carry out a traineeship in another country are just an example of the wide range of projects supported by the Erasmus+ programme, which, since its creation in 1987, has involved nearly 13 million people. The European Solidarity Corps programme helps young people take part in projects that benefit communities, and develop their skills and competences at the same time.

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