Better vocational education is vital if Europe is to respond adequately to its challenges of global competition, high numbers of low-skilled workers and young unemployed, and ageing populations.
The Commission acts together with EU governments, employers' and workers' groups and countries outside the EU to strengthen vocational education across Europe. The basis for this is the Copenhagen Process.
In 2010, these 33 countries agreed a package of common goals in vocational training for 2011-20, backed-up with concrete national measures and EU support. This package is known as the Bruges Communiqué .
The Commission's work on vocational education is supported by 2 agencies:
The Leonardo da Vinci programme (one of the EU's lifelong learning programmes) funds a wide range of vocational training measures, ranging from placements abroad to cooperation projects between training organisations in different countries.
As of 2014, it will be part of the Erasmus For All programme.
VET's popularity needs to be fostered among young people. Therefore, the EU is proposing policies to improve the quality of training (initial education, continuing development) and of teachers, trainers and other professionals in the sector, and make courses more relevant to the labour-market. Methods include:
Research by the Commission
Rethinking Education, the Commission's new strategy for education reform, proposes a number of initiatives in the field of VET to support smart and sustainable growth:
Training the trainers
The Commission brings together experts from different countries to exchange good practice in teaching/training and support reform in national systems. It supports these with its own studies.
It will also launch a quality framework for traineeships by end 2012 that will push for clearer legal/administrative information on study periods abroad and encourage employers to offer high-quality work placements.
The Commission is also encouraging employers to offer European traineeships, which will be accompanied by action to improve the quality of traineeships, including trainee feedback tools and more cooperation between business organisations and education/training institutions.
The Commission works to facilitate collaboration between providers of vocational education/training and drivers of innovation (innovating companies, design centres, the cultural sector and higher education) – by encouraging all sides to streamline their capacities within Knowledge Alliances and Sector Skills Alliances.
The European Business Forum on Vocational Training promotes creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship in the sector.
Generally, entrepreneurship initiatives in initial and ongoing vocational education as well as the use of ICT in training are high on the EU's agenda.
This is about ensuring access to training for individuals and groups at risk of being excluded (the low- and unskilled, people with special needs or from disadvantaged backgrounds, and older workers, etc.).
The Commission is currently identifying best practice for this purpose.