Pavel Trantina, at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), argues the case for non-formal learning in order to gain key skills for the working world
At the latest Education, Training and Youth Forum, organised by the European Commission in Brussels in October of this year, one word was on everyone’s lips: “skills”. It was often used in connection with “recognition” or “validation”. It is incredible how views on the recognition of non-formal and informal learning have changed since the concept was first brought into the policy debate in the late 1990s. As the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) stated in its recent opinion on the Validation of skills and qualifications acquired through non-formal and informal learning, “the EU cannot fail to validate the hidden wealth that lies in the experience and skills that people have acquired through non-formal or informal means”.
The Council Recommendation on 20 December 2012 highlighted that “the validation of learning outcomes (knowledge, skills and competences) acquired through non-formal and informal learning can play an important role in enhancing employability and mobility, as well as increasing motivation for lifelong learning, particularly in the case of the socio-economically disadvantaged or the low-qualified.”
This claim is borne out by the research. In 2012, the University of Bath and GHK Consulting drafted a study for the European Youth Forum looking at the impact of non-formal learning in youth organisations, on young people’s employability. Youth organisations are important providers of such learning. This type of education is not primarily aimed at increasing employability, but research has shown that the skills acquired through youth organisations could help achieve this goal. The study confirms the widespread recognition that the skills required by employers clearly correspond to those nurtured by the non-formal learning sector. Five of the 6 most frequently required soft skills are among those further developed by youth organisations – the sole exception being numeracy. The soft skills most sought by employers include communication, organisation and planning, decision-making, teamwork, reliability/independence and numeracy. These soft skills are seen as key competencies for working successfully. Certain character traits are also developed, such as personal motivation, initiative and creativity, which are personal traits related to reliability/independence and entrepreneurship.
Given the high rate of youth unemployment, opportunities for interaction between public and private employment agencies, volunteer organisations (particularly those involving young people) and employers should be supported. This can serve to promote the visibility – and raise awareness of the importance and value – of non-formal education and informal learning in voluntary organisations, and also to strengthen mutual trust.
The EESC strongly believes that emphasis should be placed on identifying, recording, assessing and thus improving the outcomes of non-formal and informal learning and on doing so in a way that is as comparable as possible and comprehensible to all parties involved, particularly employers and educational institutions.
Member States should provide opportunities for people of different ages and qualification levels to have their non-formal and informal learning validated. The EESC recommends that Member States broaden the range of institutions providing the public with guidance and counselling on the benefits of validating competencies and on the options and mechanisms for doing so. Member States should, in particular, enlist employment services, youth information centres, educational institutions, employers, trade unions, career advice centres, youth organisations, women’s organisations, organisations providing support to migrants and disabled people, and public institutions.
The social partners and other civil society organisations should be made more aware of the benefits of validating non-formal and informal learning and should be given an active role in setting national qualification frameworks and determining professional qualifications.
The EESC calls on educational institutions, particularly secondary schools and universities, to promote the validation of skills and knowledge acquired through non-formal means. The EU has many examples of good practice in this field, which should be promoted.
Collective bargaining and social dialogue between unions and employers could play an important role in the process of validating non-formal education and lifelong learning and this should be used as an instrument to work on validating non-formal learning as an important contribution to the debate on employability and the instruments to support it.
The EESC has already supported the creation of the European Skills Passport and, subsequently, the Europass Experience. It is therefore disappointing that the European Commission has suspended the preparatory work on the Europass Experience and calls on it to see this initiative through to completion. Such a tool would increase the transparency of skills acquired outside of school and increase people’s opportunities on the labour market.
The full opinion can be found at: http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.en.soc-opinions&itemCode=34487
President of the Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship (SOC) Section
European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)