Workshop 1: Upskilling Opportunities for All

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15 March 2022 - 14:00-16:00

Organised by: The European Federation of National Engineering Associations (FEANI), the Lifelong Learning Platform (LLLP) and the European Association of Institutes for Vocational Training (EVBB) in cooperation with the EESC Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship (SOC) and the EESC Labour Market Observatory (LMO)

Live streaming:

Draft Agenda

Moderated by: Mr Theodor GRASSOS, Secretary General of EVBB

  • 14.00 – 14.10: Mr Lech PILAWSKI, President of the EESC LMO
    • Introduction and Opening words
  • 14.10 – 14.25: Prof Alfredo SOEIRO, Prof. Civil Engineering, University of Porto
    • "Added social value of updating Engineering Competences: Impact on Sustainability"
  • 14.25 – 14.40: Mr Sebastian FRANK, MSc in Strategic Management, Vienna, Member of EVBB Board of Directors and Head of ÖJAB EU Department
  • 14.40 – 14.55: Mrs Susana OLIVEIRA, Vice-President of the Lifelong Learning Platform
    • "Lifelong Learning Entitlements: a European solution to upskilling and reskilling - who is to fund LLL"
  • 14.55 – 15.05: Mrs Mariya MINCHEVA, EESC member (Group 1, Employers)
  • 15.05 – 15.15: Mrs Tatjana BABRAUSKIENĖ, EESC member (Group 2, Workers)
  • 15.15 – 16.00: Debate – Question and Answer Session – Round-up

Concept note

In the context of an emerging new learning ecosystem, current and future generations will have to become "working learners". The fragmented education and workforce systems in Europe today reveal shortcomings, witnessed by identified skill and opportunity gaps, amplifying the need for adults to invest in learning throughout their professional lives. In addition, the concept of upskilling has gathered further impetus due the dual backdrop of rising poverty and social exclusion caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and an increasingly polarised work landscape within the EU. One fifth of adult Europeans struggle with basic reading and writing, calculation and using digital tools in everyday life. About the same amount of adult Europeans (around 22%) only obtain a lower secondary education level at most. Without these skills and with a low level of qualification, they are at higher risk of unemployment, poverty and social exclusion[1]. Disconcertingly, however, the right to education, opportunities and the uptake of upskilling remains lower amongst low-income and marginalised groups, who are most in need[2]. These groups, in particular women, migrants and internally displaced persons, people living in rural and remote areas, people with disabilities and the poorest quintile, are affected by higher than average levels of underemployment and unemployment, often ending up in low-quality or highly informal jobs.  This highlights the importance of promoting inclusive and demand-driven vocational education and training (VET) to such groups facing difficulties in accessing VET systems, in order to enable them to benefit from education and training programmes to improve their skills and employability. On the other hand, an issue faced by those who are actually trained in VET is that they do not always acquire the required qualification and skills; this is due to insufficient involvement of the private sector and lack of labour market links. Meanwhile, VET programmes and upskilling remain firmly out of reach due to financial constraints, time-poverty, and the loss of income as a result of pursuing education and/or training. The rise of work precarity and in-work poverty add further fuel to the fire, with more workers having little control over their time, let alone the opportunity to pursue learning opportunities[3]. Completion is another challenge, as once enrolled, vulnerable groups are at greater risk of dropping out.

How can upskilling opportunities respond to the needs of those marginalised, taking into account the barriers noted above? What shape and form might an equity-proof conception of upskilling take? And how can this be further realised? How can we be in line with the "no one left behind" principle of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development? How can VET systems and employment services be prepared to deal with the inclusion of vulnerable people and the provision of opportunities to upgrade skills? What are the right solutions to address inequalities in the VET system, to guarantee the educational rights of these groups and to give them the opportunity to upskill? Meanwhile, will micro-credentials lead to micro-masters and become the new imperative? Will the absence of continued professional development lead to downward professional mobility in the same way as academic education has led to upward mobility, or is it becoming a wider level playing field in which knowledge, capabilities, skills and aptitudes are competing in their ranking as essential competences? And who will define and assess those, and against which criteria? Does upskilling relate to acquiring new information and data, or to new knowledge, or does it also mean increasing intelligence and wisdom?

This workshop should appeal to students and those starting out in their careers, to policy-makers and civil society organisations, as well as to employers, as regards their active participation in creating competencies and upskilling opportunities for their workers. The workshop is also aimed at encouraging actions targeting various categories of disadvantaged and/or vulnerable groups, to which the selected target group (VET learners) belong. The workshop's objectives are:

  • to think expansively and objectively about what can be done today to prepare for an educational infrastructure that ensures that future generations are equipped with the relevant and required skills to be prepared for the jobs of tomorrow;
  • to ensure that the discourse around upskilling is sensitive to the needs and experiences of those marginalised and/or experiencing poverty, and that the set of barriers that deter certain groups from availing of upskilling opportunities are taken into account. How can we ensure equitable access to resources and learning opportunities?; 
  • to develop, test and/or implement innovative strategies and approaches that are conducive to upskilling opportunities and to disadvantaged and vulnerable groups' access to the VET system and their further integration;
  • to highlight new and innovative inclusive initiatives and tools that contribute to improving skills and facilitating access to the formal and informal labour market for disadvantaged and vulnerable groups by improving their employability and their vocational education and training;
  • to collectively develop and draw up three major recommendations, and a series of key policy lessons, on how the upskilling of the European workforce can be pragmatically achieved according to the principle of equity.

[1] European Commission (2021), Upskilling Pathways - New opportunities for adults, available here

[2] World Economic Forum (2021), Upskilling for Shared Prosperity

[3] EDJN (2018), Precarious employment on the rise in Europe