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In countries in which the demographic change leads to a rapid ageing and a shrinking workforce, lifelong learning becomes even more important for individuals to remain employable at higher ages. It is important to bring together individual needs regarding the personal, social and professional development with general labour market and business demands.

One of the main objectives of this study project is to identify in a broader European context how social partnership can contribute to the promotion of employee training. A particular challenge in a cross-country comparison is that similar actions can lead to different results – always depending on the country-specific institutional framework and the economic conditions. Among the twelve surveyed countries (Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden), there are countries with a long tradition of a strong social partnership, countries which are expanding their social partner activities and finally countries whose social partnership has been severely hit by the financial and economic crisis after 2008 and related government reforms.

An important result of the cross-country comparison is that in all countries, employers and employees need support regarding provision of and participation in employee training, and that social partners are key actors in this regard. It could be shown that a general lack of financial resources is often not the main obstacle to training. It is more challenging to provide support in the form of additional information and guidance for specific target groups like low-skilled employees or small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). In addition, time restrictions are an important obstacle, in particular when the economy is booming and the order books are full.

In the following, the main results of social partners’ involvement in promoting employee training are summarised.

Anticipation and identification of skills needs

Successful approaches in the anticipation and identification of skills needs combine high quality labour market data with social dialogue. The institutional participation of social partners in labour market projections and the identification of training needs can contribute significantly to avoiding skills mismatches.

  • To achieve a comprehensive anticipation and identification of skills needs, sectoral and regional approaches are needed. These may be complemented by inter-sectoral approaches, as appropriate. Better cooperation between sectors could furthermore help individuals in their career planning, facilitate changes between sectors and contribute to the development of an overall educational strategy.
  • The strategic inclusion of further actors in the process of anticipating and identifying skills needs has proven to be a successful tool to obtain useful and broad information on future skills developments. Relevant actors could be, for example, research institutions or educational institutions like training providers. A further advantage of integrating them at an early stage is that they can promote quick implementation of new training measures in the training market.
  • A flexible training market is helpful to identify skills needs because the flexibility presupposes that training providers are able to perceive changing training demands and to respond quickly to new skills needs. This flexibility can only be achieved by an exchange between companies and training providers. Social partners can promote the dialogue between training market and labour market by bundling the interests of their members. Alternatively, social partners can act as an intermediary and communicate the needs of their members to the training providers.

Mobilising Resources

  • Promoting the value of employee training is an important field of action. Social partners can play a role in communicating the benefits of training – for the individual development of employees as well as for the competitiveness and innovative capacity of companies – among their members and thereby raise the overall awareness of further training opportunities for all employees.
  • The awareness of the value of training and the common understanding that employee training is an investment and not only a financial burden is an important requirement to increase the awareness and the willingness of employers and employees alike to mobilise resources. In practice, time resources are often more of a bottleneck for employee training than financial resources. Therefore, social partners can contribute to finding solutions for instance as part of their efforts to inform, support and provide guidance at the enterprise level.
  • A reliable and well-known structure of financing employee training can help to increase training participation. In Europe, there are many alternative tools used for this, for example, the right to paid training leave (by law or through collective agreements), personal training accounts or (mostly sectoral) training funds. The success of the different tools depends on the country-specific institutional framework. However, an important precondition for the tools to succeed is that their existence and their functioning is well communicated to all potential users.
  • Sometimes, the individual training needs of employees do not coincide with the needs of employers. This is for example the case when employees at risk of unemployment have better labour market perspectives if they choose training measures which prepare for a change of employer and, often related to this, a sectoral change. Thus, there needs to be a partial promotion of employee training which is independent of the current employer. Publicly funded individual training accounts are one possibility to support the individual career development of employees independently of their actual employer. Skills assessments are another way to identify employees’ training needs, while fostering a strengthened sense of individual responsibility for their training development.

Information, Support and Guidance

  • Informing both employers and employees about available training offers and offering effective support and guidance in employee training is a key issue in all surveyed countries.
  • It is at the employee and company level that the balance between employers’ and employees’ training needs should be sought. Social partners can play a role in increasing participation in and efficiency of training measures.
  • Employee training should be seen as an overall approach within which there may be a need for a targeted approach to specific groups. In such cases, and as part of the wider approach to active labour market policies, Member States should provide effective and systematic support including financial resources for training that supports the integration of the low-skilled, unemployed and socio-economically disadvantaged groups in the labour market, in particular the migrants and refugees via employee training and adult apprenticeships. The training needs of older workers and of individuals not in employment, education or training (NEETs) in particular should also be taken into account. As part of this, Member States should ensure the implementation of the upskilling pathways Council recommendation with the effective involvement of social partners, as applicable.
  • There is a particular need to foster information, support and guidance in SMEs. Bundling SMEs’ needs can contribute to better training results that a single enterprise could not reach alone.
  • The further development of online tools that make available training offers visible and give information about the quality of training courses would be helpful for raising awareness of training opportunities. In addition, the use of online courses that allow for training employees independent of set course times could be better promoted. Such approaches will be particularly useful for SMEs which may otherwise lack access to information and training offers.
  • Independent information from a neutral third party concerning employees’ career prospects or employers’ business needs may be beneficial. This approach can help alleviate potential conflicts of interest.

Validation of skills, competences and qualifications and recognition

  • All European countries have established procedures for the recognition and validation of competences and qualifications. However, in most countries the existing procedures are often not well-known and, in consequence, not well established. Social partners can play a role in contributing to the promotion of existing recognition and validation procedures and communicate their benefits among their members (e.g., via a better identification of individual skills needs and the derivation of corresponding training needs).
  • The expertise and labour market knowledge of social partners can be important for the development and improvement of transparent and simple procedures for the recognition and validation of competences and qualifications.
  • The value of recognition and validation procedures depends on acceptance in the labour market. However, in many countries certificates are not transferable – neither between regions nor between sectors. In the context of work being undertaken to develop the European Qualifications Framework, it would be useful to advance a standard format for describing learning outcomes for the purposes of the comparison and transparency of qualifications. This should take place in the form of a common understanding, from the bottom up, of learning outcomes. Such an approach should not be about the harmonisation of learning outcomes. At the same time, there needs to be sufficient flexibility at the national level, while having in place a structure that allows for further comparability and which fosters mobility.

The role of employee training in changing labour markets driven by innovation and digitalisation

  • Digitalisation and ICT skills play a role through the whole educational system and are correspondingly gaining importance in employee training. To adapt and invent training measures for digital skills, it is necessary to support employers and employees in defining which digital skills are needed. Once these skills needs are identified it is important that curricula are adapted in a timely and effective way where necessary, particularly in the case of new occupations. In addition, non-formal training measures can be developed which respond to these needs.
  • Even in times of ongoing digitalisation soft skills and professional skills remain important or are even gaining importance. Employee training has a role to play in providing a balanced mix of the necessary skills.
  • New pedagogic and didactic procedures are necessary to fully exploit the advantages of digital learning. Furthermore, new digital learning formats need to be applied in a targeted way to support disadvantaged groups and, thus, ensure easy and equal access to training for all employees.
  • SMEs can also profit from digital learning but they are often not able to build the digital infrastructure on their own. Therefore, social partners can install platforms that help them to cooperate with other SMEs and/or inform companies about financing options.
  • Digitalisation can support social partners’ information and guidance offers if the tools are user-friendly.
  • Big data analytics can contribute to a better skills anticipation and improve the match of training offers to labour market needs.

Quality, transparency and efficiency in the provision of employee training

  • Most social partners are very satisfied with the quality of employee training in their respective countries and their involvement in quality assurance. Social partners help to ensure the relevance of training to labour market needs.
  • In some countries social partners criticise the inadequate fit of existing training offers. Sometimes, training offers do not meet the demand and are in consequence not efficient. Again, this can be improved by a better and institutionalised inclusion of social partners in the anticipation of training needs and the derivation of subsequent measures to better align the training market to labour market needs.
  • Informal and non-formal short-term training courses are becoming increasingly important, but they are not necessarily part of national quality systems. Social partners can play an important role in giving orientation to their members.
  • The connection between existing initial vocational education, training and university offers on the one hand and employee training on the other hand should be improved to provide training more efficiently. It is important that social partners work together with educational institutions and companies and employees. Existing institutional connections (e.g., social partners’ involvement in the boards of VET schools) should be used to this end.
  • To further increase efficiency in the provision of training, it can be helpful to establish networks for information exchange and cooperation between enterprises and unions. This could lead to a joint definition of training content and to a corresponding organisation of the training supply.

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