In her State of the Union address on 14 September 2022, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared 2023 the European Year of Skills. In October 2022, the EU Commission presented a proposal for a decision by the EU Parliament and the Council. After political agreement was reached in March 2023, the thematic year was launched on 9 May 2023, this year's Europe Day. The plan now is to fill the coming months with actions that effectively contribute to strengthening people's skills and the position of workers.
To implement the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, Member States agreed on national targets in the areas of employment, skills and poverty reduction in mid-2022. The EU target stated in the Action Plan is to achieve at least 60 % of adults participating in further education and training each year by 2030. It also aims to contribute to achieving an employment rate of at least 78 % by 2030. In its press release on the proposal to designate 2023 as the European Year of Skills, the European Commission stressed that, according to the latest available Eurostat figures from 2016, only just over one third of adults in the EU regularly (are able to) continue their education. And even the target set in the Digital Compass 2030 Communication that at least 80% of all adults should have basic digital skills by 2030 is still a long way off. According to the Digital Economy and Society Index, this would currently only apply to around 60 % of adults and two-thirds of employees.
Increasing challenges on the labour market
These figures on skills and qualification opportunities are increasingly matched by bottlenecks in filling vacancies. Across the EU, potential employers report difficulties in finding workers with the required skills. According to the Report on labour shortages and surpluses of the European Labour Authority, (ELA) in 2021 skills shortages existed in 28 occupations, including healthcare, construction, services and IT. Not only in light of the retirements of the baby boomer generation, which pose challenges for many EU Member States, but also in view of the need to manage the so-called twin transitions – i.e. the digital transformation and the ecological transformation of the economy – there must be ambitious investment in skills acquisition for the entire population in the coming years. As the EU Parliament and the Council emphasise in the recitals of their decision on the European Year of Skills it is not only necessary to counter the problems of unattractive jobs and poor working conditions through a high supply of high-quality jobs. It is also important to maximise the potential of all working-age adults, not least women and young people who are not in education, employment or training.
Priorities of the European Year of Skills
The European Year of Skills now aims to ensure that all relevant stakeholders, from social partners to employment agencies and educational institutions, work together to promote skills acquisition to meet the current economic challenges. The EU-wide and nationally coordinated approach of the thematic year also aims to address the current changes in the economy in an equitable way, thereby also improving professional and life opportunities for people in the EU. In this sense, it is intended to promote more effective and inclusive investment at all levels into all forms of reskilling and upskilling, education and training, to develop common approaches, and to facilitate the recognition of skills and qualifications. Moreover, third-country nationals with the skills needed shall be attracted.
To achieve these goals, existing instruments, not least European funding opportunities, are to be used first. These include the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), the Recovery and Resilience Facility as well as the Digital Europe, Horizon Europe and Erasmus+ programmes. In addition, new proposals from the EU Commission will also be implemented, including the Net-Zero Industry Academies announced in the Green Deal Industrial Plan, a digital education and skills package, the update of the European Quality Framework for Traineeships, the creation of an EU Talent Pool to facilitate international recruitment of skilled third-country nationals or the renewal of the EU learning mobility framework . During the Year of Skills, numerous actions will take place both in Brussels and in a decentralised manner. Major events planned include the “European Vocational Skills Week 2023“ (23-27 October) and a closing event in 2024.
From AK's point of view, the European Year of Skills should, in terms of education policy, above all contribute to focusing on the development of competences of pupils and the further trainingof workers. In this context, companies should be made more responsible. This is because in-house training in Austria is declining – despite the continuing high demand for labour – and many searching for an apprenticeship are still unable to find a training place. At the school level, further efforts must be made this year for more equal opportunities and to ensure basic skills.
AK EUROPA Position Paper: Communication on the European Education Area by 2025
AK EUROPA Position Paper: Shaping the future through high-quality education and training – make continuing vocational training a basic right!
AK EUROPA Position Paper: Communication on Digital Education Action Plan
AK EUROPA Position Paper: 2030 Digital Compass: The European way for the Digital Decade
AK EUROPA Policy Brief: Action Plan on the Pillar of Social Rights and EU Social Summit - Social Realignment of the EU needed
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