EU’s just transition demands life-long learning

Life-long learning is increasingly a necessity if workers are to remain competitive in today’s high-skilled job markets. Martin Jefflén, President of Eurocadres, makes the case that all responsible actors should ensure that European citizens have access to continuous skills development.

The spectre of digitalisation casts a growing shadow over the world of work, presenting a range of challenges to professionals and managers. And as Europe moves to a more green, low-carbon economy, employment markets are facing another set of difficulties.

In this new world, workers are changing jobs more often than ever. And in many cases beginning second or even third careers in response to general changes in the economy and specific changes in job markets.

At Eurocadres, we believe that one of the most effective ways to respond to the trends affecting the labour market – such as digitalisation and moving to a low-carbon, or even net-positive economy – is through just transition including creating systems and structures that enable professionals and managers to constantly renew and redevelop their skill sets.

The rapid changes within the workplace underline the need for greater investment in education and training. Europe has many good examples of flexibility within higher education, including facilitating studies well beyond the traditional young adult years. However, more can be done in this area. Enabling part-time studies, distance learning and evening classes are examples of good practice, but among the member states the picture regarding flexibility in higher education remains mixed. Financing must also be adapted, to facilitate these changes. In short, it is key to develop ways to organise studies that can be combined with family responsibilities and mortgage payments.

Life-long learning is increasingly a necessity if workers are to remain competitive in today’s high-skilled job markets. The European Union, its individual member states, the academic community and social partners, including trade unions and employer organisations, all have a role to play in creating the structures necessary for a just transition and for the move to life-long learning. It is important that the EU institutions remain at the forefront of efforts in responding to these changes.

We would like to see European universities developing more courses and programmes for people who already have a degree, possibly gained in another country. Well-functioning recognition of qualifications is crucial to promoting lifelong learning and mobility. The overall recognition of qualifications – European or non-European – is still not perfect. Member states have difficulties in implementing qualification frameworks, which slows down the flexibility of the labour market. Therefore, the most important initiative from member states would be a better use of the qualifications frameworks to support recognition. We believe such a move would help with the just transition in terms of re-skilling and also encourage greater mobility among Europe’s student populations.

Additional performance-based university funding can provide financial incentives, ensuring that students reach graduation. Such incentives should be based on the performance of all students, not just those who already have a first degree.

Member state governments need to provide incentives for employers, employees and educational institutions to work together, to see how to best initiate a just transition. Similarly, social partners and EU institutional decision-makers need to foster a creative environment that encourages companies to train their staff and support professional learnings processes. Social partnership is a necessary mechanism in this situation.

Policy makers and stakeholders need to encourage the development of reskilling and upskilling programmes that are industry specific. These should be provided at the local level and address the multifaceted nature of the growing digital divide.

Unless positive action and creative initiatives are developed there is a risk that entire regions and industries will suffer, as their local and regional authorities, companies and educational institutions are finding it difficult to cope with the magnitude of change.

By working together on clear plans of action, all responsible actors can ensure that European citizens have access to continuous skills development – a must for the Europe of both today and tomorrow.

Eurocadres represents six million European professionals and mangers. It serves as their voice in EU advocacy and lobbying, as well as in European cross-sectoral social dialogue.

“Expert Voices” is an online platform featuring original commentary and analysis on the higher education and research sector in Europe. It offers EUA experts, members and partners the opportunity to share their expertise and perspectives in an interactive and flexible exchange on key topics in the field.

All views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of EUA.

Martin Jefflén

Martin Jefflén, elected President of Eurocadres – Council of European Professional and Managerial Staff in 2013 is a Swedish trade unionist from TCO, The Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees. Eurocadres is the trade union voice of over six million European Professional and Managerial Staff. It promotes quality in working life, real freedom of mobility and a stronger knowledge-based Europe and works through advocacy, social dialogue and joint work with member organisations and cooperation partners. National confederations and unions as well as European trade union federations are its member organisations.


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