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The EU Year of Skills, opportunity or tokenism?

Authors: Andrea Lapegna Published:

2023 is a great opportunity to campaign for the European Year of Skills to go beyond the idea that education only exists to serve the labour market, writes Andrea Lapegna. The text is a column in the Speakers’ Corner series.

(It will be an opportunity, I reckon. I am not sure if I am supposed to give out the punchline at the beginning of the article, but I thought it could help set the tone and guide the readers through my reasoning. )

In her State of the Union address, President von der Leyen proclaimed 2023 the European Year of Skills, to the greatest surprise of many public and private stakeholders in the sector.

The reason to put skills – and EU programmes that seek to upskill and reskill the adult population – in the spotlight is explained on account of the high unemployment rates and, at the same time, the forecast of new jobs being created every year.

THE SUBTEXT OF this choice is unchallenging to find. The European Commission proposes a collective effort to meet the EU headline targets set by the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan of at least 60% of adults participating in training every year, and an employment rate of at least 78% by 2030.

It is by promoting education for education’s sake that we can maximise its positive effects, also in labour market participation.

This goes hand in hand with the ongoing efforts to achieve the goals set out in the Digital Decade : 80% of Europeans with basic digital skills and 20 million ICT specialists by 2030. In parallel, an additional point to consider is the thrust of the Green Transition, which seeks to instil “green skills” in the population to face anthropogenic climate change.

It is easy to uncover the risks in such a framing: the attention brought on market needs reveals a danger of conflating learning, and the adaptation to fight any challenge of our current times, to labour market participation.

Most education experts will tell you that education opportunities should arise and be implemented with learners’ needs in mind, not to serve exogenous interests. Incidentally, it is by promoting education for education’s sake that we can maximise its positive effects, also in labour market participation.

AT THE SAME TIME, this is the perfect occasion for education stakeholders to campaign for the European Year of Skills to go precisely beyond this misconception that education is responsible only for preparing people to be tomorrow’s workforce. Skills will be so much in the spotlight that education stakeholders – learning providers, practitioners, pedagogists, academics, civil society and others – cannot miss out on this opportunity to counter the common neoliberal view of education as simply instrumental to the market(s).

On the contrary, learning has a liberating potential, and so do skills.

Adapting to modern challenges such as pandemics, wars and climate change does not only mean to fight for our own place in employment, but also to allow ourselves to bring new perspectives and solutions, social innovation, intercultural understanding, personal and collective fulfilment with an outlook on the future.

The opportunity to bring this very message is ours to take.

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Andrea Lapegna is the Deputy Director of the Lifelong Learning Platform. Besides overseeing external representation and public information activities, he is an expert in global citizenship education as well as teachers' and educators' development. Show all articles by Andrea Lapegna
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