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Vocational education and training in Europe: old roots for new routes

The challenges of the 21st century require new approaches to learning for work. Vocational education and training (VET) in Europe is evolving, but we need a clearer vision of what modern VET systems should look like. This was the central message of Cedefop Director James Calleja’s presentation to the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) Committee, in Brussels on 29 January.

This year marks Cedefop’s 40th anniversary. Citing its theme, Old roots to new routes, Mr Calleja said: ‘The old roots of established European VET systems must provide new routes - pathways, options and opportunities - to jobs and careers. VET has long-established roots in many European Union Member States. These roots nurture skills that grow into qualifications that sustain transition to work and further career development. But those old roots need to provide new routes and new ways for people to update their skills and gain new qualifications to find work, build rewarding careers and enjoy quality of life. Modern VET systems also need to provide new routes for enterprises to develop skills for economic excellence and competitive performance.’

Mr Calleja highlighted that many of the features of modern VET systems are emerging, illustrated by work Cedefop is doing. ‘With the European Commission, Member States and social partners, we are, for example, rethinking the role of work-based learning for young people and adults. We are working together on European instruments to make VET systems more flexible, so that all types of learning count, mobility for learning and work is easier and learning opportunities of all kinds are available throughout life.’

However, these different initiatives need to be integrated more closely. ‘For example,’ he says, ‘it is not just a case of improving how VET systems operate, but also their interaction with and relevance to the labour market. Cedefop has also shown that skill supply and demand forecasts that inform policy-makers about labour market trends are an essential feature of any VET system.’

Mr Calleja stressed that it is for Member States to decide the features of their modern VET systems. However, European cooperation has had a strong and positive influence in this area. Debating, agreeing and translating those features into a shared vision of what modern VET systems should look like may help to focus and uphold VET reform during a difficult period following the economic crisis when resources are limited and tough decisions needed.

For the Cedefop Director, ‘modernising VET will probably always be a work in progress.’ He added: ‘This underlines the case for having a point of reference that sets out the features of modern VET systems. These features should recognise the important role VET plays in both personal and economic goals, of helping directly people and enterprises.’

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MEP Jutta Steinruck, coordinator of S&D in the EMPL Committee, said that the agencies provide a valuable contribution to European policy. She considers Cedefop and its work in the field of VET to be 'an important tool to combat youth unemployment.' She also believes that MEPs and other policy-makers need to be informed on which skills will be needed in the future.