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 systems equipping people with knowledge, know-how, skills and/or competences required in particular occupations or more broadly on the labour market. It responds to the needs of the economy but also provides learners with skills for personal development and active citizenship. VET 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:

  1. Initial vocational education and training (I-VET) is usually carried out at upper secondary level, before entering working life. 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.
  2. Continuing VET (C-VET) takes place after the 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 to continue personal and professional development. C-VET is largely work-based with the majority of learning taking place in a workplace.

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 cooperation on vocational education and training (launched in Copenhagen in 2002) has been further enhanced by the 2010 Bruges Communiqué and the 2015 Riga Conclusions where the EU, candidate countries, European Economic Area countries, EU social partners, the European Commission and European VET providers agreed on a set of deliverables for the period 2015-2020:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Further strengthen key competences in VET curricula and provide more effective opportunities to acquire or develop those skills through I-VET and C-VET.
  5. 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?

  • The European Alliance for Apprenticeships, established in 2013, has effectively mobilised EU Member States, European Free Trade Association and EU candidate countries and over 230 stakeholders to engage in enhancing the supply, quality and image of apprenticeships. Recently the mobility of apprentices has also been added to the objectives of the Alliance.
  • The European Apprentices Network was established in 2017 to make sure that the voice of young apprentices is heard in discussions related to VET and apprenticeships.
  • The ET2020 Working Group on VET aims to help policy-makers and other stakeholders design policies and practices to enable teachers and trainers to reach their full potential and to contribute to improving apprenticeships and work-based learning.

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.