"Career guidance is at the heart of our strategy at the European Commission"


  • 10/03/2023
  • Tiempo de lectura 9 mins

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Mariya Gabriel. EU Commissioner for Education, Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth
Mariya Gabriel (1977) has been the EU Commissioner for Education, Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth since 2019. Previously, from 2017 to 2019, she was the European Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, with responsibilities in areas such as the digital economy, the information society and information and communication technologies (ICT).

During her professional career, she has been an MEP and has held various positions in the European Parliament, including Vice-President of the Committee on Education and Culture, and Member of the Committee on Legal Affairs.

As Commissioner for Education, Gabriel has focused her work on the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy, which aims to improve education and training throughout life in Europe and promote academic and professional mobility. Likewise, she has worked on strengthening digital education and training in digital skills, to promote competitiveness and innovation in the EU.

Why has the European Commission decided to designate 2023 as the European Year of Skills?

Right now, EU unemployment is at a record low, but job vacancies are at a record high. In 2021, 28 occupational fields were suffering from shortages, including healthcare, science, and technology.
We believe that it is through a skilled European workforce that we can best reply to these challenges. The European Union needs a workforce equipped to meet our current and future labour market needs. We need a workforce that can tackle both the green and digital transitions. And we need to respond to the demographic changes the continent is facing.
For all these reasons, the European Commission has proposed that 2023 is the European Year of Skills.
We have ambitious goals for this year. We want to make sure EU countries and employers invest in skills, upskilling and training to unlock the full potential of the European workforce. In addition, we want to step up efforts to equip citizens, notably women and young people, for today's labour market. Attracting people from third countries with the skills we need, also by strengthening learning opportunities and mobility, will be another essential element of the Year of Skills. And we will need to facilitate the recognition of qualifications.
For the European Year of Skills to be a success, we need cross-sector buy-in: we saw this very clearly with the 2022 European Year of Youth. We need a coalition of efforts, a joint endeavour between the EU institutions, EU countries, labour market institutions, social partners, media and relevant stakeholders. As a training provider, Educaweb can also play a crucial role.

What main initiatives and programs are being carried out by the European Commission within the framework of the celebration of this European Year of Skills?
European Years are all about awareness raising and harvesting contributions for future policy initiatives.
For the European Year of Skills, we plan to launch new initiatives, for example, in the field of recognition of qualifications of third country nationals. Smooth recognition of non-EU qualifications increases the attractiveness of the European labour market and decreases administrative burden for institutions and job seekers. In the intra-EU context, we are working towards the implementation of automatic and mutual recognition of qualifications, which can also inspire and facilitate progress with regard to the recognition of qualifications gained outside the EU.
Moreover, we will equally build on the many EU initiatives that are already ongoing to support skills and increase their take-up, such as the New European Innovation Agenda, the European Skills Agenda, and the Structured Dialogue with EU countries on Digital Education and Skills, to name but a few.
The preparations process is ongoing, and many other initiatives and events are still under discussion, and you will be able to find out more soon!
What is the European Skills Agenda and what does it consist of?
The European Skills Agenda is our 2020-2025 strategy to help individuals and businesses develop more and better skills; on the same line as the Year of Skills.
The Skills Agenda is centred on three main objectives: strengthening sustainable competitiveness, ensuring social fairness, and building resilience against crises. To achieve this, we have set out twelve concrete actions, which we believe will allow us to achieve our ambitions.
Let me give you few concrete examples.
One of the flagship actions of the Skills Agenda is the Pact for Skills. We want to support public and private organisations with upskilling and reskilling, so that they can flourish through the green and digital transitions. This action groups a huge range of actors, including national, regional and local authorities, companies, social partners, cross-industry and sectoral organisations, chambers of commerce, education and training providers, employment services. All are encouraged to join forces and improve skills across the board. The partners under the Pact have committed to offering upskilling and reskilling opportunities to around 6 million people no less.
And let me also mention the new Europass platform, which makes it easy to communicate skills and qualifications in a unified way. This is another key aspect of the Skills Agenda. And through that platform, you also have access to the European Job Mobility Portal EURES and thousands of vacant posts across Europe.
And a third example: we are focussing our attention on implementing a European approach to micro-credentials: small courses allowing for a targeted acquisition of skills and competences and leading to a tangible certification. Micro-credentials are adapted to a fast-changing society, needs of labour market and learners, while not replacing traditional qualifications.
Our initiative aims to ensure that these micro-credentials are relevant, transparent, widely recognised and of high quality.
As shown by these three examples, our actions have a large coverage. We aim to significantly increase the skills of Europe's workforce. By 2025, we will work towards having 50% participation of adults aged 25-64 in learning during the last 12 months, a 20% share of unemployed adults aged 25-64 with a recent learning experience, and a 70% share of adults aged 16-74 having at least basic digital skills.
These are ambitious targets, which reflect our strong desire to upskill and reskill the European workforce and prepare it for future needs.

How important is career guidance for the European Commission?
In one word: very! Career guidance is actually at the heart of our strategy at the European Commission.
We would define this as lifelong guidance that provides career development support for individuals of all ages, at all career stages. It includes career information, advice, counselling, assessment of skills and mentoring.
The European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) is leading on a major lifelong guidance project, developing research and knowledge exchange for the improvement of guidance and counselling across the European Union.
Cedefop cooperates with the European Commission in developing tools and principles that support the work of guidance for professionals and the careers of individuals. These tools include Skills Intelligence, which makes European labour market intelligence available to professionals, workers and learners. Moreover, the tools comprise relevant frameworks for guidance on professionals' work such as the European qualifications framework and guidelines for the validation of informal and non-formal learning.
What specific initiatives or programmes are being developed by the European Commission to ensure universal access to career guidance for people to have an informed decision-making about their life and professional projects?
Career guidance in EU countries is often provided by Public Employment Services and we bring them together with Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein through the European Network of Public Employment Services, the PES Network. In this forum, we identify good practices and learn from each other to modernise the sector, and work to ensure the effectiveness of PES delivery and improve the career guidance throughout the EU. Additionally, the Network provides inputs to the European Employment Strategy as well as the corresponding national labour market policies.
The European Commission offers also the European Social Fund Plus, ESF+, the EU's main instrument to invest in people. The ESF+ contributes to improving the inclusiveness of the Spanish education system, for example by creating new vocational training opportunities with higher employability, or dual vocational training. The investments are geared towards supporting the acquisition of key competences, including digital skills, and promoting professional development and mobility of teachers and trainers. The ESF+ will also focus on the integration of young people in the labour market. Think of individual counselling, career guidance, in work training and intra-EU mobility programmes. Incentives for the permanent hiring of those not in education, employment or training and young people with low skills are also envisaged. The ESF+ contributes to making young people fit for changing labour market circumstances. And it also improves their working conditions through incentives for self-employment and social security rebates to convert trainee and training contracts into permanent ones.
Can you explain some good practices or initiatives from EU countries that contribute to the comprehensive career guidance of citizens?
The France example comes to my mind. In the 2021-27 programming period, French regions allocated EUR 168 million on career guidance, to complement investments in vocational training. This includes projects to support students and jobseekers through academic and career guidance, by providing relevant and accessible information on professions, qualifications, and job opportunities. Jobseekers, students, and their parents are able, for example, to attend different events linked to the discovery of professions, such as career fairs or championships of vocational skills.
In addition, the ESF+ supports the development of new information tools that complement the existing offer, including the use of virtual reality and immersive platforms, enabling a whole new experience in getting to know certain occupations. The academic and career guidance services will be further improved by training and upskilling guidance professionals so that they can give the best possible guidance for the public.
Or look at Italy: Public Employment Services there have a strategic role in referral to individual contact points. In fact, after registering, a case worker carries out counselling for each unemployed person to identify specific needs, of social, health, educational or economic nature, and provide tailor-made career guidance. The unemployed person benefits a comprehensive support, from information to referrals. The personalised guidance and activation system in Italy has been first used with the Youth Guarantee, and it has radically changed the PES approach.

What initiatives is the European Union leading to help young people develop their entrepreneurial and soft skills?
We have put in place a wide number of successful initiatives. I am happy to mention few and encourage readers to visit our websites to discover more of them.
We have always put much emphasis on the importance of fostering entrepreneurship skills from an early age on. We took inspiration from proposals by a wide variety of stakeholders to add a concrete action in the European Strategy for universities on Innovators at schools. From 2023 on, Erasmus+ will involve leading personalities from start-ups to act as ambassadors and mentors. I believe that they will inspire young people at school to develop new ideas and solutions.
Under the New European Innovation Agenda, the European Commission has launched the so-called Deep Tech Talent Initiative to train 1 million people, including young people as of upper secondary school, on deep tech skills by 2025. I am confident we will be able to promote cutting-edge technologies this way.
The Deep Tech Talent initiative comes in addition to the continuous support that the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, the EIT, provides for young learners to develop their entrepreneurial and soft skills. Just at the beginning of this year, we launched the EIT Campus, a great online platform to access the large education and training offer of the EIT – and many of the courses are for free.
Another initiative close to my heart is Girls Go Circular to support schoolgirls age 14-19 and develop their digital and entrepreneurial skills. Since 2020, more than 26,000 girls have been trained across 15 countries, including Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Serbia, North Macedonia, Armenia, Moldova, and Ukraine. In 2023, Girls Go Circular will expand to Germany, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Estonia, Ireland, Austria, and Luxembourg, while Spain will join in 2024. We are working to enlarge the country coverage and provide girls in the whole EU with the opportunity to participate.  
Another new programme is ALMA, short for Aim, Learn, Master, Achieve. The initiative helps disadvantaged young people by combining support for education, vocational training, or employment in their home country with an internship placement in another EU country.
Then, we are bringing policy makers and young entrepreneurs together through the Youth Entrepreneurship Policy Academy, which will be launched in early 2023. This Academy will trigger policy changes in favour of youth. It will help national, regional, or local administrations offer more effective support packages to young entrepreneurs – and those who want to become entrepreneurs.
And let me give you a last very important example. Many higher education institutions need to build up their capacity to teach innovation and entrepreneurship. To help them, the EIT with its Knowledge and Innovation Communities launched the Innovation Capacity Building for Higher Education. This is a mouthful, but in short, concrete Key Performance Indicators on the training and mentoring of students ensure that their innovation and entrepreneurship competences are really enhanced. Already during the first year this has led to multiple students developing their ideas in tangible products for the market.
I can, for example, mention the ICTUS Medical − a painless monitoring device that empowers stroke survivors to take control of their health by detecting sleeping strokes. This new product hopes to make a significant impact on heart patients. It is the result of a new student incubator programme, Start100, launched under the HEI initiative by the i2i consortium. The consortium connects five higher education institutions, three intermediary organisations, and eight associated partners in five entrepreneurial ecosystems, including the University of the Basque Country, the EusKampus Fundazioa and the Tecnalia Ventures located in Spain, to build innovative capacity for staff and students across the digital, health, creative and climate sectors. 

The unemployment rate in Spain is the highest in the European Union (12%) and youth unemployment is also (32%), according to the latest Eurostat figures for November 2022. How this situation could be reversed through education and training?
The crises Europe has gone through over the last years have badly hit our young generation. In particular, Spain faces the challenge of early school leavers, and we need to further reduce the rate of those dropping out too early from education and training. This is part of my job as Commissioner for Education, Innovation, Research, Culture, and Youth. We need to support young people in acquiring the skills and competences they need in our fast-changing societies and labour markets.
Digital skills are key, and Spain is very active in the field of digital education. Since June 2020, the Digitalization and Digital Competence Development Plan (Plan de digitalización y desarrollo de la competencia digital) aims at improving the digital competence of students, teachers and schools, addressing the digital gaps; implementing the School Digital Plan (Plan Digital de Centro); and create digital Open Educational Resources. Besides, as from this school year 2022-23, the programme Plan Código Escuela 4.0 will start. This initiative will help students develop their digital skills in Early Childhood Education and Care, Primary and Secondary Education, focusing on computational thinking, programming and robotics. It is a very concrete example of the important role education and training can and should play.
I fully believe that the future belongs to the next generation. There is room for optimism, despite the many uncertainties we are facing. This generation of young Spaniards and Europeans is not just the first generation of digital natives, not just the most connected generation, and the most educated one in the history of mankind. This generation is showing a great sense of responsibility towards the planet and fellow human beings.
Through my job, I get to exchange with many young people across the EU. And I did so even more last year, during the European Year of Youth. And, despite all the challenges they are facing, I have full trust in this next generation and cannot wait to see what they have in store for us.
It is my honour to help them realise their dreams.
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