Spain: Social partners' role reduced in vocational training reform

The Spanish government has introduced reforms limiting the social partners’ role in managing continuous vocational training. The changes have been made because of a potential conflict of interests, and the emergence of some cases of fraud. The social partners, who had previously been in charge of curricula and managing funds, have not welcomed the move.


Controversy in Spain over continuous vocational training has grown over the last few years, caused by a lack of transparency and accountability in the way it is managed. Vocational training, for workers and for unemployed people, had previously been funded jointly by employees and employers.  The funds were managed by the state and by the regional governments, together with the Spanish Employment Service (SEPE), and the Tripartite Foundation for Training in Employment, made up of government representatives and the social partners.

The system supplied two main types of training:

  • demand training, financed totally or partially by public funds and supplied in response to needs identified by enterprises and employees;
  • supply training, which is for employees and the unemployed; since 2008, this has been accredited and certified by the National Catalogue of Professional Qualifications (work experience without formal training can also be recognised with a professional certificate).

Social partners, through their role within the Tripartite Foundation, were involved in detecting training needs and designing training courses. Every year, tenders were launched for subsidised supply-side training courses, for which only social partners could bid. The social partners would then subcontract private training centres and consultancies, sometimes linked to the same social partners, for the delivery of those courses. This meant they were, to some extent, involved in both managing the funds and supplying the training courses. Criticism of the system grew when cases of fraud, related to the management of training funds by social partners, were reported in Andalusia and Madrid.

New, limited role for social partners

The Royal Decree-law 4/2015 of 22 March 2015 reformed the way the system is run. It excludes social partners from the management of the training funds and partly from the commissioning and supply of the training courses. Their role is now officially limited to detecting training needs to assist other bodies, such as regional governments, and they will also help design a multiannual strategic plan.

Supply-side training will be mostly based on criteria from the National Catalogue of Professional Qualifications. The market has been opened up, with public and private training centres officially recognised by SEPE now able to compete with the social partners to offer courses.

The Tripartite Foundation has been replaced by the new State Foundation for Employment and Training. Civil servants have the majority vote on its governing board.

A new inspection unit has also been set up to monitor vocational training and to ensure the enforcement of any sanctions on training providers.

Views of the government and social partners 

The government says this reform should improve the transparency and efficiency of the training system, thus helping to improve the employability of the workforce. Spain's leading union federation, the Confederation of Workers’ Commissions (CCOO), has criticised the move, saying that the social partners are now merely advisors (in Spanish).  The union has also claimed that the government is prioritising private training centres over public ones. However, the General Workers’ Union (UGT) said in a statement: 'It is possible and necessary to focus trade union activity on the promotion of qualifications, confining unions to applying for training funds through its training centres in open competition [with other training suppliers]'. The Spanish Confederation of Employer Organisations (CEOE) and the Spanish Confederation of Small and Medium Enterprises (CEPYME) have not yet made any official assessment of the reform.


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