EU policy in the field of vocational education and training

Vocational education and training is a key element of lifelong learning systems, which seeks to equip citizens with knowledge, skills and competences required in particular occupations and on the labour market.

What is vocational education and training?

Vocational education and training (VET) responds to the needs of the economy, but also provides learners with skills important for personal development and active citizenship. 

VET can boost enterprise performance, competitiveness, research and innovation and is a central aspect of successful employment and social policy.

VET systems in Europe can rely on a well-developed network of VET stakeholders. These networks are governed with the involvement of social partners, such as employers and trade unions, and in different bodies, for example chambers, committees and councils.

Vocational education and training (VET) systems consist of initial and continuing VET.

Initial vocational education and training (I-VET) is usually carried out at upper secondary level and post-secondary level before students begin working life. 

It takes place either in a school-based environment (mainly in the classroom) or in a work-based setting, such as training centres and companies. Although, this varies from country to country, depending on national education and training systems and economic structures.

Continuing VET (C-VET) takes place after initial education and training or after beginning working life. It aims to upgrade knowledge, help citizens to acquire new skills, retrain and further their 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 European Union (EU) average masks significant geographical differences in participation ranging from 15% to more than 70%.

EU VET policy and COVID-19 recovery efforts

On 1 July 2020, the Commission put forward an ambitious agenda to guide COVID-19 recovery efforts in the fields of employment and social policy. The focus is on skills and VET. 

The proposals are an important contribution to President von der Leyen’s Recovery Plan for Europe. The proposals include:

Recent developments in EU VET policy

2020 Council Recommendation on VET

On 24 November 2020, the Council of the European Union adopted a Recommendation on vocational education and training for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience.

The Recommendation defines key principles for ensuring that vocational education and training is agile in that it adapts swiftly to labour market needs and provides quality learning opportunities for young people and adults alike.

It places a strong focus on the increased flexibility of vocational education and training, reinforced opportunities for work-based learning and apprenticeships and improved quality assurance.

The Recommendation also replaces the EQAVET – European Quality Assurance in Vocational Education and Training – Recommendation and includes an updated EQAVET Framework with quality indicators and descriptors, while it repeals the former ECVET Recommendation.

To promote these reforms, the Commission supports Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs) which bring together local partners to develop ‘skills ecosystems'. Skills ecosystems will contribute to regional, economic and social development, innovation and smart specialisation strategies.

Osnabrück Declaration 2020

On 30 November 2020, ministers in charge of vocational education and training from EU Member States, Candidate Countries, EEA-EFTA (European Economic Area – European Free Trade Association) countries, European social partners and the European Commission endorsed the ‘Osnabrück Declaration 2020 on vocational education and training as an enabler of recovery and just transitions to digital and green economies’. 

The Osnabruck Declaration is supported by VET providers’ associations at the European level (VET4EU2) and  representatives of VET students (OBESSU, European Apprentices Network). 

The Declaration sets out new policy actions for the period of 2021-2025 to complement the Council Recommendation on vocational education and training for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience: 

  • promoting resilience and excellence through quality, inclusive and flexible VET 
  • establishing a new lifelong learning culture emphasising the relevance of C-VET and digitalisation 
  • fostering the sustainability of VET 
  • develop a European Education and Training Area and international VET 

The Advisory Committee on Vocational training endorsed an opinion on the future of VET which will contribute to the Commission’s policy beyond 2020.

Further actions on EU VET policy

  • The European Quality Assurance Reference Framework (EQAVET) is a reference instrument designed to help EU countries to promote and monitor the continuous improvement of their VET systems based on commonly agreed references. Further information can be found on the EQAVET website.
     
  • The Council Recommendation on a European Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships identifies 14 key criteria that EU countries and stakeholders should use to develop high-quality and effective apprenticeships.
     
  • 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 to ensure that the voice of young apprentices is heard in discussions related to VET and apprenticeships.
     
  • The annual European Vocational Skills Week, launched in 2016, is a Europe-wide campaign with the aim to improve the attractiveness and image of VET.
     
  • The ET2020 Working Group on VET aims to help policymakers and other stakeholders to design policies and practices. The most recent Working Group during 2018-2020 focused on innovation and digitalisation in VET and higher VET at system level. 
     
  • The Interagency Group on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (IAG-TVET), led by UNESCO, ensures the coordination of activities among key international organisations, among others the Commission, involved in policy, programmes and research on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET).

Financial instruments supporting VET policy:

  • The Erasmus+ programme has an indicative financial envelope of €14.774 billion. 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 each year are financed under the Erasmus+ Strategic Partnerships. The programme also finances other activities, such as Sector Skills Alliances.
     
  • 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 was dedicated to, among other goals, enhance equal access to lifelong learning, to promote flexible pathways and improve the labour market relevance of education and training systems.

European cooperation on vocational education and training dates back to 2002 and the Copenhagen process. It has been further enhanced over the years, for example by the Bruges Communiqué and the Riga Conclusions.

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