The European Commission has launched their latest Youth Employment Package requesting a guarantee from all Member States that every young person receives a quality offer of employment or training within four months of leaving school, or of being unemployed. The proposal will make full use of EU funding and in particular the European Social Fund (ESF), which was set up to reduce the differences in prosperity and living standards across EU Member States and regions.
|Employment or training for all young people|
The new Youth Employment Package is part of the initiative Rethinking Education – designed to reduce the youth unemployment rate. Research has shown that the figure is close to 23 % across the European Union, yet more than 2 million vacancies remain unfilled.
To change this, Member States are being urged to take immediate action to ensure that young people develop the skills and competences needed by the labour market, and to achieve their targets for growth and jobs.
The need for a more dynamic approach to education comes after statistics showed that 73 million Europeans (around 25 % of adults) have a low level of education. Nearly 20 % of 15 year olds lack sufficient literacy skills, and in 5 countries more than 25 % are low achievers in reading (Bulgaria 41 %, Romania 40 %, Malta 36 %, Austria 27.5 %, and Luxembourg 26 %). Early school leaving remains at unacceptably high levels in several Member States: in Spain it is 26.5 % and in Portugal 23.2 % (the EU target is under 10 %). At the same time, less than 9 % of adults participate in lifelong learning (the EU target is 15 %).
Androulla Vassiliou, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, believes these statistics highlight a serious weakness in our education and training systems. She says, 'Matters have been made worse as the economic downturn has led many Member States to cut funding for education and training.'
She goes on to say, 'Europe will only resume sustained growth by producing highly skilled and versatile people who can contribute to innovation and entrepreneurship. Efficient and well-targeted investment is fundamental to this, but we will not achieve our objectives by reducing education budgets.'
The focus now is on education and ensuring it is more relevant to the needs of students and the labour market, while assessment methods will be adapted and modernised. The use of information and communication technologies (ICT) and open educational resources (OERs) are also to be scaled up in all learning contexts. But teachers also need to have regular training in order to update their own skills. The strategy further calls on Member States to strengthen links between education and employers, to bring enterprise into the classroom and to give young people a taste of employment through increased work-based learning. EU education ministers are also encouraged to step up their cooperation on work-based learning activities at a national and European level.
Rethinking Education conducted a Commission survey this year titled 'Education and Training Monitor', which outlined the skill supply in the Member States. What was derived from the survey was the need for a much stronger focus on developing transversal skills and basic skills at all levels. Key areas were especially applicable to entrepreneurial and information technology (IT) skills.
Improving foreign language learning has also been highlighted with a new benchmark set for 2020 for at least 50 % of 15 year olds to have knowledge of a first foreign language (up from 42 % today) and at least 75 % to study a second foreign language (up from 61 % today). Investment in these skills is deemed vital as is the need to build world-class vocational education and training systems and for increasing levels of work-based learning.
The goal for Member States is to improve the recognition of qualifications and skills, including those gained outside of the formal education and training systems. Technology, and in particular the Internet, will need to be fully exploited, and schools, universities, and vocational and training institutions must now increase access to education via OERs.