What to expect from the European Commission’s New Skills Agenda?

"Thrilled about Skills"


As the Brussels bubble is buzzing with digital activities, we should not lose sight of the basics. While the focus shifts to digital inclusion, 55 million European adults are still struggling to read and write.[1] And even though the digital economy offers exciting opportunities, youth employment rates across the European Union are still very high.[2] Here is how the European Commission aims to ‘raise the bar’ on a wide spectrum of skills and what we can expect from these long-awaited plans.

Why skills?

The Commission is looking at skills because of a variety of developments - the digital revolution, the economic and financial crisis, the migration challenge, and the sharing economy phenomenon. These challenges have profoundly changed the socio-economic landscape in Europe and the Commission believes they can be tackled by a greater understanding of market trends and by adjusting existing perceptions and policies on people’s skills.

The digital transformation has made it clear that digital skills are not just for the “cool” kids anymore. You need them for doing your taxes and they are impacting the very way Europe is doing business. The challenge is that not everyone is able to keep up with this digitisation and its rapid changes. Especially the elderly and vulnerable groups run the risk of being digitally excluded. This could also lead to social exclusion, even more so when we see that certain segments of society are increasingly digital-only.

The economic and financial crisis has changed the way we look at what people need on the job market. Employers are running a ‘race for talent’, looking for team players, problem-solvers and creative thinkers on top of a broad array of competences. At the same time, skills mismatches are troubling the labour market. The crisis has also pushed many qualified (young) professionals to move abroad, which has exposed the risk of a European “brain drain” and showed how difficult it is to have professional qualifications recognised in a different country.[3] 

Finally, the arrival of new ways of working and learning implies a third trend that strongly affects the type of competencies and know-how people are supposed to acquire. The sharing economy has altered work environments, and has led to more independent and contract-based work. As non-formal learning and education are taking root, we need to develop ways to officially compare and qualify the skills obtained outside traditional classrooms.

What is the European Commission planning?

The Commission has already launched several initiatives to boost digital skills, but how is it planning to address the other challenges? Rumour has it that the European Commission is establishing a dedicated skills unit in DG Connect. The Commission also intends to implement ‘systemic reforms’ to make sure the right people are equipped with the right skills. In practice this comes down to three actions:

  • The Commission will guarantee the quality and relevance of skills. It plans on working together with Member States to ensure that everyone has the right skills for the jobs offered on the market. Vocational and educational training (VET) schemes should give individuals relevant know-how and help companies find suitable employees. Long-term unemployment will be tackled through a “Skills Guarantee” (June 2016) that helps people find appropriate work by identifying potential skills gaps and learning opportunities.

  • The EU’s action to boost the visibility and comparability of skills and qualifications implies an upgrade of the European CV or “Europass”. This will also be helpful to migrants, who feature high on the New Skills Agenda. The Commission will launch a “Skills Tool Kit for Third Country Nationals” in June 2016. This kit should improve the abilities and competences, hence the opportunities and integration of these groups on the European job market.

  • Skills shortages in specific economic sectors will be addressed through the launch of a “Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation on Skills” in June 2016. This feeds into the EU’s aim to improve information sharing and build bridges between the education system and the job market. Especially start-ups looking to broker partnerships could benefit from this, and universities could use this tool to better understand market trends. Finally, graduates will be tracked upon the completion of their studies and online platforms for networking and knowledge sharing will be launched.

Thrilled about skills?

The launch of the New Skills Agenda is an exciting development. It is a recipe for social inclusion and economic prosperity, and it is an effort to improve people’s lives. But is it enough? The European society is constantly changing, and so are the requirements for skills. To ensure that Europe is well placed to cope with the unknown challenges of the future, the relevance and quality of people’s skills should be constantly assessed! Follow or contact @AcumenPA for more insight into the New Skills Agenda and to keep track of relevant policy developments.

At the time of writing, the launch of the European Commission’s New Skills Agenda is foreseen for 10 June 2016, but we will keep you updated.

By Fabienne Zwagemakers, Consultant

[1] European Literacy Policy Network (ELINET), “Why a literacy declaration?”

[2] Eurostat, Unemployment Statistics (updated in April 2016).

[3] The leaked “New Skills Agenda” of the European Commission further explains these factors.

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