Alfred Tennyson’s elegy – ‘In Memoriam’ – (part of it reproduced below) of almost 175 years ago captures the reflective, poignant, questioning mood associated with lost lives and discarded opportunities, that is amplified at this time of the year. As we pass from one year to the next, after the quelling of the festivities and fireworks, time almost stands still on the bridge between the old year and the new one. For some the transition will be seamless, for others the new year comes bloated with promises and resolutions. These transitions can be likened to the fuzzy recalculating GPS images at a crossroads on a car journey, as the system adjusts its compass for onward direction guidance. It offers a time to inhale philosophically and exhale practically. Your different journeys will continue, you will take stock of the roads travelled and not travelled over the previous year, and you will take on the new year armoured with renewed strength and purpose. So, ring out the old, ring in the new.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Moving from the poetic and philosophical to the prosaic and practical –
The European Commission has designated 2023 as the ‘European Year of Skills’, following the announcement by President Ursula von der Leyen in her 2022 State of the Union address. The justification for this might be found in Eurostat’s announcement that currently more than three quarters of companies in the EU report difficulties in finding workers with the necessary skills, and latest figures (from Eurostat) suggest that only 37% of adults undertake training on a regular basis.
The Digital Economy and Society Index shows that 4 out of 10 adults and every third person who works in Europe lack basic digital skills. In addition, already in 2021, 28 occupations ranging from construction and healthcare to engineering and IT had shortages, showing a growing demand for both high and low-skilled workers. The 2030 Digital Compass sets the EU target that by 2030, at least 80% of all adults should have at least basic digital skills, and there should be 20 million employed ICT specialists in the EU, while more women should be encouraged to take up such jobs.
A recent press release by the EC offered this: ‘The green and digital transitions are opening up new opportunities for people and the EU economy. Having the relevant skills empowers people to successfully navigate labour market changes and to fully engage in society and democracy. This will ensure that nobody is left behind and the economic recovery as well as the green and digital transitions are socially fair and just. A workforce with the skills that are in demand also contributes to sustainable growth, leads to more innovation and improves companies’ competitiveness.’
There are many EU initiatives to support skills development which will be highlighted during 2023, and which may offer ideas, support or validation for some of your projects. In those domains in which you are already strong, there will be opportunities to profile and showcase what you are doing in the relevant sectors. Below is a small snapshot of some of the initiatives:
- The European Skills Agenda is the framework for EU skills policy cooperation that helps individuals and businesses develop more and better skills and to apply them. As part of the Skills Agenda, under the Pact for Skills so far, more than 700 organisations have signed up and 12 large-scale partnerships in strategic sectors have been set up with pledges to help upskill up to 6 million people.
- The Commission has also proposed new initiatives to address EU skills shortages and improve migration cooperation. The roll-out of an EU Talent Pool and of Talent Partnerships with selected third partners will help match the skills of candidates to work in Europe with labour market needs. This is a key deliverable under the New Pact on Migration and Asylum.
- The European strategy for universities, adopted in January, proposes a series of 50 actions that are key to develop high level and future-proof skills for a wide range of learners, including lifelong learners, for them to become creative and critical thinkers, problem solvers and active and responsible citizens.
- The European Digital Skills and Jobs Platform is an initiative launched under the Connecting Europe Facility Programme. It offers information and resources on digital skills such as a digital skills self-assessment tool, as well as training and funding opportunities.
A cautious and valid qualification of the above is offered by ETUCE (European Trade Union Committee for Education)
‘A holistic approach to education should be safeguarded, by avoiding to define and change curricula according to employability rate of graduates, ‘labour market needs’ and the need of finding workers with the “right skills”. Education should not only serve the purpose of the changing expectations of the labour market, but contribute to ensure that students acquire key competences and basic skills linked to social, democratic and citizenship values.The text addresses the importance of “investment in professional education and upskilling”, only linking education to labour market needs. Focusing too much on the latter would lead to a lack of the skills needed to become proactive and democratic citizens.’
ETUCE shares the views of ETUC (European Trade Union Confederation) that the Commission should support not only high-skilled migrants and refugees but provide equal treatment to all, and ensure quality education for migrant and refugee children.
EURASHE (European Association of Institutions in Higher Education) argue that ‘most education experts agree that education opportunities should arise and be implemented with learners’ needs in mind, not only to serve external or derivative interests. It is by promoting education for education’s sake that we can maximise its positive effects, also in labour market participation.’
Closely linked to the world of work, Professional Higher Education can help meet the skills gaps Europe is facing and develop the broader competences required for the green and digital transitions. However, reinforced cooperation with business will be needed, as well as with other education and training institutions, governments, and civil society, which should develop regional skills ecosystems.
2023 offers the perfect stage for education stakeholders to campaign for the European Year of Skills to go precisely beyond this misconception that education is responsible only for preparing people to be tomorrow’s workforce. Skills and competencies will be in the spotlight offering education stakeholders – learning providers, practitioners, pedagogists, academics, civil society and others an opportunity to counter the common view of education as simply instrumental to the market(s). On the contrary, learning has a liberating potential, as do skills.
Reacting and adapting to modern challenges such as pandemics, wars and climate change does not solely mean competing for our own place in employment: it also gives us the opportunity to bring new perspectives and solutions, social innovation, intercultural understanding, personal and collective fulfilment into the equation with an holistic outlook on the future.