Social partners issue first follow-up report on training framework
In March 2003, the EU-level social partners issued a report on the development of competencies and qualifications, drawn up within the context of a framework of actions for the lifelong development of competencies and qualifications agreed by the partners in March 2002. The document reports a wide range of EU-level and national initiatives in the priority areas for action laid down in the framework document.
In March 2002, the central EU-level social partners agreed a 'framework of actions ' for the lifelong development of competencies and qualifications (EU0204210F). The signatories were: the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) - whose delegation included representatives of the liaison committee for managerial and professional staff, which brings together the ETUC-affiliated Council of European Professional and Managerial Staff (EUROCADRES) and the independent European Confederation of Executives and Managerial Staff (CEC); the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE), in cooperation with the European Association of Craft and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME); and the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP). The framework identified the following four priority areas for action:
- to identify and anticipate competencies and qualifications needs;
- to recognise and validate competencies and qualifications;
- to inform, support and provide guidance; and
- to mobilise resources.
While the framework is not a binding text, the signatory parties hope to make an effective and specific contribution to the realisation of lifelong learning within the framework of the objectives established by the EU. The signatories' member organisations are to promote the text 'at all appropriate levels' in the Member States. The framework includes a monitoring clause which states that the social partners will draw up each year, from 2003 to 2005 inclusive, an annual report on the national operations carried out in line with the four priorities set out in the framework for action. After three annual reports, the social partners will assess by 2006 the impact on both companies and workers. The social dialogue working party on education and training will be responsible for the assessment and the four priorities may be updated in consequence.
The first follow-up report issued in March 2003, describes how the framework of actions has been included in social partner activities as regards the development of competencies and qualifications in Member States. It also gives information on the actions taken at cross-industry, sectoral and company level, illustrated by examples of good practice where appropriate.
Actions at EU level underpin many of the individual country initiatives, with the European social partners disseminating the framework of actions and organising meetings with national and European sectoral social partners. They also support projects organised by their members to promote the framework, notably within the EU's Leonardo da Vinci vocational training programme. Additionally, there have been several developments at European sectoral level. These include: a joint declaration on lifelong learning in the banking sector (EU0212207F); bipartite discussions in the textiles, clothing, footwear and leather sector; a joint document on skills issued by the social partners in engineering, metal and technology-based industries; and a European vocational training agreement signed by the social partners in the agricultural sector (EU0301203N).
Actions taken in Member States
The report identifies four major types of follow-up action at various levels in Member States – at national, sectoral and company level. These are:
- dissemination activities, including translation of the framework text and meetings to inform, analyse and discuss the priorities;
- discussion on the framework of actions between social partners and the integration of the priorities in collective agreements;
- promotion of the approach and the priorities of the framework of actions through tripartite concertation; and
- follow-up of one or several priorities through more focused actions and projects, either jointly between social partners or separately.
Identification and anticipation of competencies and qualifications needs
Several countries have conducted reports and studies taking account of the economic and labour market situations and prospects in the country/sector concerned. For example, the report of an Irish task force on lifelong learning was published in October 2002, and in Italy a national analysis of training needs in various sectors has been carried out by the relevant employers’ organisations and trade unions. In the UK, the social partners have jointly launched a document of case studies to raise awareness of the impact of low literacy and numeracy in the workforce and highlight ways of tackling the problem effectively.
Other activities include actions designed to develop the competencies of certain categories of workers. For instance, in Belgium, the social partners and the federal government have agreed to enlarge the system of paid educational leave to part-time workers for vocational training. Other categories of worker targeted for special programmes include workers at the opposite ends of the age spectrum – ie young and older workers, those with low basic skills and managers. In Luxembourg, the construction and public works sector has created a sectoral training institute to ensure that workers’ skills keep abreast of current requirements in the sector.
A further set of actions are designed to match training offers with the needs of companies and the labour market, for example in Germany.
Validation and recognition of competencies and qualifications
Activities in this area are said to demonstrate clearly the social partners’ concern to build bridges between the world of formal education and the world of work. The report gives details on a wide range of initiatives such as that in the transport sector in Denmark, where the social partners have devised a system to validate competencies acquired on a non-formal basis and supply 'missing' qualifications on a formal basis.
In Sweden, the federation of private enterprises has presented a report that, among other matters, calls for universities to allow more students to apply on the basis of competencies and knowledge learned in the workplace rather than on the basis of formal qualifications, since much of the learning in small companies takes the form of on-the-job training. In France, a mechanism to allow the validation of work experience is currently subject to tripartite implementation and in Spain, a new act on qualifications and vocational education and training, adopted in June 2002, sets up a comprehensive framework for validation and recognition of qualifications, taking into account both formal and informal learning. In the Netherlands, the association representing small and medium-sized metalworking companies has developed a 'knowledge-maintenance contract' with educational institutions that allows employees who have been working for several years after achieving secondary vocational education to gain a diploma for higher education by completing specific parts of courses.
Other examples range from partnership with public authorities or training institutions at national or local level to autonomous initiatives by social partners at national, sectoral or regional level, as well as actions at company level.
Information, support and guidance
The widely-reported activities in this area relate to cooperation between the social partners and public authorities aimed at the provision of more effective guidance, information and support services, in particular for young trainees and workers. For example, in Finland, the social partners have set up a joint working group with the public authorities to disseminate information to young people regarding the opportunities offered by business professions.
Mobilisation of resources
The report states that the importance of the effective mobilisation of resources for the lifelong development of competencies and qualifications is reflected in a very wide variety of instruments developed and reported. These include company investment in competence development, including establishing development strategies in companies and investment in training. In Portugal, for example, competencies and qualifications development have been taken into account in collective agreements. Elsewhere, investment by individuals is reported, such as the use of 'training vouchers'. Also reported are various forms of 'co-investment', such as: 'training cheques' issued to companies in Flanders; joint social partner funds such as that which has been operating in Greece for the past five years; and European Social Fund programmes.
Additionally, tax incentives have been established or reinforced, as in the case of Austria, where companies investing in education and training can now obtain tax credits and employees’ training expenses are treated as income-related expenses in the framework of the individual’s tax declaration. In Greece, the employers’ federation has submitted a proposal to the government on tax incentives for enterprises and individuals to encourage investment in training and competence development activities.
This first report on the follow-up of the EU framework of actions confirms the interaction between the activities and proposals of the social partners at European and other levels. The wide range of related actions demonstrates how the debate initiated by the framework document has produced real results within the various national contexts while enabling Member States to respect their own social dialogue practices and traditions of concertation between public authorities and labour market parties. This framework of actions will doubtless make a valuable contribution to raising the skills levels and general employability of the European workforce. (Beatrice Harper, IRS)