Report: Making Skills Count Conference, Brussels, 8-9 June


Making Skills Count, a flagship event of the European Commission hosted in June 2023, both celebrated and amplified some of the imperatives behind our commitment to investment in skills and making opportunities for lifelong learning more realistic and accessible for all of us.

European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmidt, underlined the change in thinking and practice that is being enabled, where across Europe, we need to adopt a different approach to managing the labour market. While many are fearful because of the potential of climate change and technological advances to eliminate jobs, the reality is that many new and different, highly skilled jobs are emerging in response to such challenges- for example, the management of cybersecurity is a global industry unforeseen a short while ago. Within the Commission, Council and Parliament, the ambition is to create the environment where we all have opportunities and security to adapt, change and learn new skills, within a social rights pillar, so that this accelerating transition is fair and inclusive. By May 2024, the expectation is that a rolling process of investment in people would have commenced so as to maintain prosperity in a social model, supporting changes across our European economy.

Big questions

Through a combination of plenary panel discussions and workshops, employers, social partners and different authorities responded, teasing out some of the ‘big questions.’ Why do skills matter? How do skills and qualifications policies interact? Do both interact well with evolving H.R. practices, which are beginning to favour ‘skills first’ approaches? How can we best support people to be ’rightly skilled?’ Is everyone ready to talk about their skills in ways that work for recruitment, and how can we support that?

Employers invest significantly in training across the EU. People who are unemployed are less likely to participate in training, so training opportunities have to be viewed from an ‘access’ lens. Valeriya Ionan, Deputy Minister of Digital transformation of Ukraine illustrated a new digital life-long learning platform, DIIA, which includes an ecosystem of different projects but will provide opportunities for RPL against occupational standards resulting in tamper evident credentialling.

Changes in recruitment practices were outlined using examples from the World Economic Forum, IBM, LinkedIn and from the IndustriAll European trade Union. A ‘Skills First’ methodology supporting integration with mentoring, story-telling and other strategies helps address labour market shortages. Saadia Zahidi, World Economic Forum, reflected that 44% of current skills are expected to be different in 5 years’ time, and that labour shortages are a feature of most advanced economies. LinkedIn and IBM both support a Skills First approach to recruitment, having found that it increases visibility for people who might otherwise be under-represented, particularly younger people. IBM also used output and skills focus as outcomes of training in evaluations. Generally, there was strong support for the work of the EQF, and for the importance of Micro-Credentials and for digital skilling for everyone. There was also a concern for disruption coming from geopolitical and climate change, so that responses such as that nationally presented by Susan Gill, Manager of the Green Skills Programme Office, SOLAS, become heightened in importance.

Changing nature of occupations

The changing nature of occupations as ‘groups of tasks’ underpinned by specific skills- deductive reasoning, creativity, social engagement, teamwork, for example- means that collaborative multi-stakeholder dialogue continues to be a bedrock of educational and social practice. We also need to develop systems and support people to effectively combine skillsets – the personal and digital for example, so as to optimise access to the right opportunities. Glenda Quintini, Head of Skills Analysis and Policies Unit, OECD, encouraged tackling the barriers to participation in skills development, noting that 44% of people say that there is insufficient time to engage in training, a further 16% that it is too costly, and 12% that it is inconvenient. A further discussion on how skills ‘make business cents’ illustrated how upskilling enhances value and productivity in companies, closing productivity gaps, and supporting sustainability. An argument was made for placing a value on the eco-system of training and skills capital within companies as part of value creation. There was some discussion about inclusion and access to the determination of standards and reference points for such evaluation, as well as ways of supporting investment in inclusion within workplaces, developing cultures of retention. The social and economic issues of inclusion and future proofing of prosperity was important to everyone.

Workshopping recognition

Workshops included showcasing of digital credentials to support better recognition of skills and diplomas, including micro-credentials. Using the European Learning Model, interoperability between systems was considered, in a ‘trust’ chain. One of the challenges being answered within the projects was the issue of ‘who owns the learning’ gained within an employment context - and how to log it for the individual. Traditionally a reference was the individual's record. If a digital credential could be obtained, this would change, and promote better recognition and mobility. Individuals would need the digital skills to manage personal wallets and the appropriate systems would need to be accessible for different kinds of employers.

The workshop on unlocking skills and recognising qualifications in a cross-border context showcased two examples using RPL/validation of skills. ‘YH flex’ was presented by Anna Kahlson, Swedish National Agency for Higher Vocational Education, as a pilot at EQF Levels 5 and 6 providing flexible, funded, individual pathways as part of an opportunity for both validation and re/upskilling. A grant of E1000 for validation is available, with the remaining required credits funded by the individual. On average, 44% of credits for the programme were exempted. Significant savings for the individual and the State have been found, with an average estimate of 57% of the normal cost for the student per programme. Validation is integrated into the learning pathway, and this funding commitment was essential to success. Yves Magnan, Director General Products and services, Forem, presented on validation in the context of the Public Employment Services, offered across 49 centres for 70 different occupation sets. A job-seeker registers online, completes a profile and identifies potential jobs of interest, listing as appropriate, qualifications, and experiences. Connecting with guidance, potential training pathways and skills recognition options including validation are identified. Ultimately skills certificates are achievable through this process, including a skills validation test. The test involves a professional test, with a jury (panel of three) who evaluate the outcomes in an accredited centre. The certificate is on the Framework and gives opportunities for employment, training and further guidance. It gives access to regulated occupations, access and exemptions within professional training courses and has recognition for local authorities. Both examples reflected significant savings, efficiencies and throughput.

Watch plenaries and workshop sessions