Gathering skills intelligence and enhancing growth through Sector Skills Alliances

Interview with Felix Rohn (DG EMPLOYMENT, Unit E.2 — Skills and qualifications, Policy Officer).

While several DG shave their own EU-funded programmes to reinforce sectoral skills, the Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation on Skills is a joint initiative of various DGs by the European Commission. Please explain the rationale behind and how the Blueprint SSA projects fit into it.

As the name “Blueprint” suggests it, this measure is intended to be a methodology indicating how to go about sectoral cooperation on skills. The Blueprint suggests three phases: the first one identifies the sector, based on the political priorities at Union level, a clear sectoral growth strategy (not yet skills!) and a commitment of sector stakeholders to actually implement the Blueprint. The second phase promotes the cooperation of sector stakeholders in the frame of Sector Skills Alliances. This cooperation should lead to gathering skills intelligence on the sector, translate the sectoral growth strategy into a sectoral skills strategy, develop European ‘core’ occupational profiles and related curricula, promote relevant sectoral qualifications and certifications and their recognition. This is where EO4GEO stands, together with the other four projects funded in this frame. Finally, the third phase is about rolling-out the project results at national and regional level. This step is crucial to ensure a legacy of the project. It is about fine-tuning the results at national/regional level, promoting the business-education-research partnerships on the ground, scaling up successful practices, including the use of EU funding.

The funding of these activities is a separate question. The Erasmus+ action ‘Sector Skills Alliances’ funds only the second phase. The COSME programme could fund for example the consensus-building during phase one. The European Social Fund could support activities included in the third phase. There are also national funds available for skills development.

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During the Blueprint session of the Coordinators’ meeting in Brussels (26th January 2018), the participating officers from the various DGs involved underlined their willingness and availability to stay in close contact and cooperate with the Blueprint SSA projects to help achieving the strategic objectives of the New Skills Agenda: how do you plan to concretely implement this cooperation?

The Commission services have established a Blueprint Core Group which consists of colleagues from all sectors that are implementing or want to implement the Blueprint. Within this group we discuss Blueprint-related questions (phase I-III) but also how we should go about the policy monitoring of the Blueprint projects (contractual monitoring is clearly the task of the EACEA). This issue is on the agenda of our next Core Group meeting — stay tuned!

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One of the core objectives of EO4GEO is to help bridge the skills gap between the supply and the demand of education and training in the EO/GI sectors. In your opinion, how can the EO4GEO project actually implement a realistic sector skills strategy in the long term?

Look at the Erasmus+ call for Sector Skills Alliances for official and detailed information on deliverables as well follow your work programme (!). The first key deliverable is the Sectoral skills strategy to support the growth strategy for the sector. The strategy should detail how major trends, impact of digital and key enabling technologies and transition to circular economy, are likely to affect jobs and skills needs. The strategy should identify concrete actions and indicate a clear set of well-defined objectives, and the activities and milestones necessary to achieve these objectives, suggesting how to match demand and supply of skills. You should do that by occupation (profession). Identify the priorities — for which occupations the skills gaps must be addressed most urgently due to e.g. hard-to-fill vacancies or likely job losses. Identification of actors: policy makers, businesses, trade unions, education and training providers, etc. Based on the skills strategy and the priorities identified in it, the partners will work on delivering concrete solutions.

These include: (i) updating occupational profiles, agreeing “core” occupational profiles, indicating corresponding skill needs and required proficiency level, drawing on the occupational profiles in ESCO and existing competence frameworks; (ii) updating sector specific certificates and making proposals for revising relevant qualifications.

Based on the “core” occupational profiles, developing vocational “core” curricula (including higher VET). Elements that should be included in vocational “core” curricula: work-based learning and work placement abroad. Once European ‘core’ curricula for these priority occupations are developed the Alliance partners will have to approach/lobby the authorities or VET providers in their countries (depending on how much autonomy the countries give their VET providers) so that these European ‘core’ curricula are integrated in national systems (because there is no EU competence for education & training). This is part of phase III of the Blueprint.

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Which are your expectations on the methodology the project should develop to assess current skills shortages and mismatches and to monitor evolution?

The European Center for Vocational Training, Cedefop, has rich resources in the Skills Panorama but I doubt that it goes down to the level of occupations in your sector. I suggest the universities and research institutes in your Alliance should work on that and/or activate their networks.