Final conference of the European Year of Skills


The final conference of the European Year of Skills showed that endings can be new beginnings.

The conference, which took place on 30 April 2024 in Brussels and online, summarised the main achievements of the European Year of Skills (EYS) and outlined where future developments should go. The event was subtitled "What comes next?" and was attended by experts and stakeholders from a wide range of organisations.

The conference was opened by Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice President of the European Commission for a Europe fit for the Digital Age and Commissioner for Competition, who mentioned the transformation of the labour market due to technological advances and the need for digital adaptation. She stressed that we can expect the nature of many jobs to change in the coming years, making career changes more and more common throughout individuals' lives.

Despite this, changing jobs remains one of the biggest sources of stress for many people. Society must therefore focus on enabling them to acquire the necessary skills and confidence needed for lifelong success and flexibility in the labour market. A key part of this effort is to show how digital as well as green transformation not only creates more jobs, but also plays a vital role in shaping a more inclusive society.

Different initiatives, same goal

The first panel welcomed EYS national coordinators from Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, France and Spain. This gave the audience a broad overview of the different approaches to retraining and upskilling citizens. Representatives from all countries represented presented concrete benefits, changes and initiatives related to EYS.

For example, Finland plans to launch a digital platform for lifelong learning in 2025, which will allow individuals to assess their labour market opportunities and identify opportunities for improvement. France can serve as an example of practice in implementing Individual Learning Accounts. As part of this initiative, it has created a platform that offers an overview of further training opportunities, including financial support. In Bulgaria, the EYS has anchored skills in legislation and a National Action Plan is currently being developed. Spain has developed the TandEM programme for young people aged 16-29, which aims to promote their employability. A joint declaration by all EU National EYS Coordinators was then produced under the Belgian Presidency of the EU Council, paving the way for the coming years.

Skills for a more resilient society

The following panel looked at the EYS as the start of a broader reform and began by highlighting the most important skills for the future. These include not only digital literacy (including the effective and safe use of AI), but also soft or horizontal skills such as empathy, critical thinking, negotiation and teamwork skills. Given the rapidly changing labour market, it is crucial to promote the development of these skills in Europe in all sectors and for all age groups. However, this cannot be achieved without very close cooperation between schools, educators, policy makers, but also employers, businesses and the private sector. 

The panellists also mentioned concrete examples of strengthening the skills mentioned above. These included training migrants in language and digital skills in Portugal, adapting the Danish train driver programme to make it more attractive to women, challenging stereotypes in the construction industry, and the role of ambassadors, such as women entrepreneurs or people with remarkable career paths who could inspire new generations.

The conference also included Spotlight Sessions, during which WindEurope's Pact for Skills project and the skills initiatives of the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) and the European Training Foundation (ETF) were presented. After the lunch break, the guests divided into six groups to discuss in more detail specific topics related to skills development and policies. Topics included skills-first approaches; better skills intelligence and smarter use of it; Upskilling and reskilling approaches: empowering individuals; investment in skills: agile funding approaches for public-private partnerships; addressing skills shortages: which innovative solutions? And the Human Edge: leveraging transversal skills in the AI-driven workplace.

In the latter group, representatives of the National Skills Council of Malta presented the current situation in Malta in the context of promoting horizontal skills and mentioned studies on this topic. Participants then discussed the importance of these skills in the context of jobs that use AI. They stressed, for example, the possibility of using AI in the future to compare standardised criteria in the selection of new employees (level of education, etc.), but also the irreplaceability of the human factor in the context of assessing horizontal skills.

The need for a holistic and horizontal approach and the legacy of EYS

The current approach to education in schools in the form of memorisation of information is gradually becoming less relevant, as knowledge learned in this way quickly becomes obsolete. On the contrary, horizontal soft skills are becoming increasingly important, as they remain universal across all disciplines and are not time limited. There is therefore a need to focus on continuous lifelong learning, not only in schools but also in the workplace, and to promote open-mindedness. EYS aimed to make this perspective widely visible, which can be considered one of its most important legacies. 

We must also address inclusiveness in the digital age and ensure that all citizens are able to use public services online and that no one is left behind. This approach not only promotes informed and inclusive citizenship, but also prevents the exclusion of disadvantaged individuals from society. Collective agreements can also be an effective means of promoting lifelong learning, as they make it possible to react to changes in the workplace and give employees the security of knowing that they will not lose their jobs even if they have to change their jobs. Unequal training opportunities for employees are also another issue requiring a more systematic approach.  Indeed, groups such as women, workers on short-term or temporary contracts, migrants and young people are often excluded from the opportunities offered by employers.

The conference was closed by Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, who stressed the urgent need to encourage openness to new skills in all EU citizens from an early age. Close cooperation and the promotion of a horizontal and holistic approach to skills development involving all relevant actors is therefore crucial at EU level. He stressed that flexible and open-minded citizens who are willing to further their education and expand their skills and then apply them in different jobs are the key to an innovative and competitive Europe in the global market. 

The European Year of Skills has been hailed as a successful impulse for a change in the approach to skills development, including its role in raising awareness of this topic. Conference participants agreed that there is now a need to take advantage of the attention the year has brought and to continue the initiatives started at both practical and policy level.

A recording of the joint sessions can be viewed on the EYS website, while you can also read our detailed minutes of the event (in English).