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ESF: a major funder for lifelong learning

ESF: a major funder for lifelong learning © Wavebreakmedia ltd, under license of

A new evaluation report shows the significant role the ESF has in funding lifelong learning initiatives across the EU. The report looks at the impact of these activities for young people, older workers and low-skilled persons.

The ESF is a major funder of lifelong learning (LLL) across the EU. For the period 2007-2013, over €32bn is allocated to corresponding programmes, representing 42% of the total ESF budget for this period. An estimated 5 million young people, 5.5 million individuals with low skills, and 576 000 older people benefitted from ESF supported LLL activities across the EU between 2007 and 2010.

Without the ESF many of these interventions would not have taken place. The ESF has allowed more people to participate in LLL and has ensured that groups which otherwise would not have been reached (in particular subgroups among the low skilled and the young) benefit from targeted interventions.

Young people benefit the most

Young people are the biggest group benefitting from ESF-supported LLL activities. Many EU countries offer tailored provision and engagement activities geared to young people and national priorities to address youth unemployment have further raised the profile of this target group. The report found that ESF projects can contribute significantly to progression of participants towards employment. There is also a substantial transition into further training and education.

Low-skilled persons need personalised instruments

Low-skilled persons are under particular pressure in the labour market. They count for about one third of the training related participations (with huge variations between countries). This group is very heterogeneous and this makes personalised instruments (guidance, job matching activities, up skilling in specific sectors) particularly important. Positive impacts of ESF interventions for participants are – next to finding a new job – increased job-security and quality (by achieving a formally acknowledged qualification) but also an increased willingness to undertake further training and – more generally – increased confidence and self-esteem.

Older workers less reached

With less than 5% of all participations, older workers are underrepresented in ESF supported LLL, in line with their general participation in such programmes. They are generally the hardest of the three target groups to reach because many have not trained for some years and because they have a lower priority than the other target groups. Successful projects recognise that older workers are not necessarily low skilled, but can have inappropriate skills for modern labour markets.

Looking ahead to 2014-20

Rising unemployment rates across all groups and in most countries could fuel a demand for training and employment support that is unlikely to be met, especially given pressures on national budgets. Some difficult choices may need to be made. The ESF will certainly be referred to for supporting short term job creation but a continued and further improved provision of LLL will be integral in delivering the strong and adaptable skill sets Europe will require in the coming decade.