Dear colleagues,

I am delighted to co-chair – together with Viscount Etienne Davignon - this second European Pact for Youth Leaders meeting. Thank you to everyone for joining us today.

I am looking forward to hear about the achievements of the Pact since our last meeting in May. And to discuss with you further how business and education can work better together so our young people have more good quality opportunities to get their foot on the jobs ladder.

When we met in May, we were consulting on and preparing for the New Skills Agenda for Europe, which was launched 10 June.

The Skills Agenda includes 10 new actions to:

- improve skills development in Europe,
- to make skills more visible and qualifications more easily recognised
- and to better understand what are the skills needs, including looking ahead to the careers of tomorrow.

The European Pact for Youth is highlighted in the Skills Agenda. A best practice – connecting the dots between the worlds of education and work.

Together with the complementary initiative, the European Alliance for Apprenticeships, where many of you are active partners, the European Pact for Youth is a symbol of how business engagement is opening up real opportunities for young people across Europe.

The actions of the Skills Agenda are all interconnected – a commitment to prioritise people and human capital.

Earlier this week – the first of the ten actions reached political agreement in the Council. It has been very much welcomed in the European Parliament

The first action is a Skills Guarantee – or 'Upskillling Pathways' initiative to help adults with poor basic skills improve their literacy, numeracy and digital skills. And where possible, to gain a qualification equivalent to a school-leaving certificate.

It is a signal of a shared political commitment that this initiative was adopted by Member States in the Council so speedily – just over 5 months after our proposal. This may not sound quick – but it is a near record for this type of agreement.

Two other actions have also been launched.

 In June, a proposal for a revision of the European Qualifications Framework – which improves the transparency of qualifications across countries and therefore helps them to be more easily recognised.

And in October, I launched a proposal to revise the Europass Decision of the Council and Parliament. This includes a modernisation of the Europass cv template – a template which has been used more than 60 million times since it was introduced. But which needs to be brought up to date for the digital age.

 The Skills Agenda gives a prominent role to work-based learning, apprenticeships, and business-education partnerships.

 Making VET a first choice is also at the top of this agenda. We need to promote VET's profile and popularity – and to ensure that the VET offer is of excellent quality. It should not be a second option - as it often remains in the minds of learners and employers in some Member States.

Indeed, integral to our efforts to promote and modernise VET are strong business-education partnerships. These partnerships are a red thread that runs through all the initiatives of the New Skills Agenda.

Continuing with education, skills and training policies that sometimes run in isolation from business needs is no longer feasible.

We must acknowledge that there is no one-size fits all – this is why local and regional partnership is key. And why your model of national Pacts is a positive approach. Labour markets and skills needs vary significantly from country to country or region to region. So at the European level there is no one magic answer to which are the right skills – or which study fields to prioritise. It depends upon where you are.

A strong, dynamic engagement of business and a dialogue between business and education and training providers is necessary. As you highlight in your joint proposal: 'making business-education partnerships the "new normal" when addressing skills needs'.

Such a dialogue should also include other relevant partners at all levels.

Here, I want to recall the importance of involving Social Partners listening to the needs and concerns of both employers and trade unions.

As well as engaging with learners themselves about what works and what doesn't.

But what does this mean for the young people of Europe? What do better education-business partnerships mean for them?

Let me answer that, with an update on youth unemployment. As things stand now, there are encouraging signs, but the pace remains too modest: on average 18.8% of young people are still unemployed in Europe.

We know that one of the proven solutions we have to youth unemployment is work-based learning.

But while across Europe, half of all secondary-level pupils are in some form of VET, only 27% of these take part in work-based learning programmes.

Work-based learning such as apprenticeships – eases education to work transitions and boosts employability. It can be an effective springboard to good jobs and careers.

Not only learners, but employers profit from engaging apprentices and facilitating work-based learning.

Indeed, a recent study by BusinessEurope shows that a large share of enterprises can, over time, recoup their training investments and retain the most suitable apprentices.

The study also shows that companies found offering apprenticeships to be an attractive strategy to develop their own skilled workforce in-house.

Establishing business-education partnerships is not easy. Cooperation is often fragmented, needs on both sides are not always understood.

So we are here today to gain a better insight into how we can overcome these obstacles. I very much look forward to our discussions today.
Thank you.