EU policy in the field of vocational education and training (VET)

VET is a key element of lifelong learning systems equipping people with knowledge, know-how, skills and/or competences required in particular occupations or more broadly on the labour market.

What is VET?

VET is a key element of lifelong learning. These programmes allow many adults the opportunity to gather the knowledge, know-how, skills and/or competences necessary to reach their full potential. Increased enrolment in VET has many advantages – including a boost to the economy – however, vocational training also furthers personal development and active citizenship. VET also contributes to enterprise performance, competitiveness, research and innovation – and is central to employment and social policy.

VET systems in Europe can rely on a well-developed network of VET providers. They are based on governance structures with the involvement of social partners (employers, trade unions) in different bodies (chambers, committees, councils, etc.). VET systems consist of initial and continuing VET:

  • Initial vocational education and training (I-VET) is usually carried out at before entering working life – typically at upper secondary level. It takes place either in a school-based environment (with the majority of learning taking place in a class-room) or in a work-based setting, organised as close as possible to real-life experience (either in schools, training centres or companies, with apprenticeships schemes as the most typical example). This depends very much on the education and training system in each country, but also on the structure of its economy.
  • Continuing VET (C-VET) takes place after initial education and training, or after entry into working life. It aims to improve or upgrade knowledge and/or abilities, acquire new skills, retrain for a career move or continue personal and professional development. C-VET is largely work-based, with the majority of learning taking place in a work environment.

On average, 50% of young Europeans aged 15-19 participate in I-VET (at upper secondary level). However, the EU average masks significant geographical differences – ranging from participation rates of less than 15% to more than 70% (See media below).

The EU priorities for vocational education and training (2015-2020)

European collaboration on VET has included the 2010 Bruges Communiqué and the 2015 Riga Conclusions.  The EU, candidate countries, European Economic Area countries, EU social partners, the European Commission and European VET providers have thereby agreed on a set of deliverables for the period 2015-2020:

  • Promote work-based learning in all its forms, with special attention to apprenticeships, by involving social partners, companies, chambers and VET providers, as well as by stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship.
  • Further develop quality assurance mechanisms in VET in line with the European Quality Assurance Reference Framework EQAVET recommendation (see Section below) and, as part of quality assurance systems, establish continuous information and feedback loops in I-VET and C-VET systems based on learning outcomes.
  • Enhance the access to VET and qualifications for all through more flexible and permeable systems, notably by offering efficient and integrated guidance services and the making validation of non-formal and informal learning possible.
  • Further strengthen key competences in VET curricula and provide more effective opportunities to acquire or develop those skills through I-VET and C-VET.
  • Introduce systematic approaches to, and opportunities for, initial and continuous professional development of VET teachers, trainers and mentors in both school- and work-based settings.

The Commission's work on VET is supported by two agencies:

  • European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) helps develop European VET policies. It contributes to their implementation underpinned by its research, analyses as well as information on VET systems, policies and practice, skill needs and demands in the EU.
  • European Training Foundation (ETF) contributes, in the context of EU external relations policies, to human capital development. This is defined as work that contributes to the lifelong development of individuals’ skills and competences through the improvement of VET systems.

What is being done at EU level for VET?

Financial Instruments supporting VET policy

  • The Erasmus+ Programme has an (initial) overall indicative financial envelope of 14.774 billion EUR. Out of this amount almost €3 Billion is assigned to VET over the period 2014-2020. Every year, around 130.000 VET learners and 20.000 VET staff benefit from Erasmus+ mobility opportunities. In addition, almost 500 VET projects per year are financed under Erasmus+ Strategic partnerships. The programme also finances other activities such as Sector Skills Alliances (including sectoral Blueprint).
  • The European Social Fund (ESF) is an important financial lever for VET. From 2014 until 2020 the ESF has a thematic objective which assigns a significant budget to actions supporting VET. Nearly 15 Billion were dedicated to, inter alia, enhancing equal access to lifelong learning and promoting flexible pathways, as well as improving the labour market relevance of education and training systems.