From June 20-21 2023, representatives from across the European Association of Regional and Local Authorities for Lifelong Learning (EARLALL) network gathered at the Representation of the State of Baden-Württemberg to the European Union (Brussels, Belgium) in the network’s flagship initiative in the European Year of Skills. The two-day conference, entitled ‘Regional Exchange on Policies and Practices in Lifelong Learning’, welcomed more than 50 political and technical representatives from across EARLALL’s 12 members and 4 associate members to gather and take stock, discuss and give fresh impetus to the crucial role that regions and local authorities have in providing the education and training that citizens need to excel, particularly in the face of the twin transition and increased regional competitiveness.
The event began with a welcome to the Representation of the State of Baden-Württemberg to the EU by Ms Sandra Boser, State Secretary, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports Baden-Württemberg. Ms Boser felicitated the ambitious initiatives and goals of the EARLALL network. From the perspective of Baden-Württemberg, Ms. Boser also highlighted the need to keep in mind basic skills provisions, among the upcoming conversations on the green and digital transition, to ensure that no one is left behind in the skills transition. On the second day, representatives at the EARLALL Regional Exchange were welcomed by Mr. Jokin Bildarratz Sorron, EARLALL President and Regional Minister of the Department of Education of the Basque Government. Speaking in Spanish and Basque, Mr Sorron thanked all colleagues in the EARLALL network for taking the time to contribute to the conference as “a shared reflection is much more valuable than any monologue.” He spoke about how the uncertainty of the future of education mainly arises due to climate issues, but that education and training are well-positioned to provide the solutions to these challenges.
During the sessions from 14.00 – 17.00 CET on June 20 and 9.00 – 12.00 CET on June 21, EARLALL member region representatives were invited to exchange among themselves over four thematic talks: Digitalisation (facilitated by Ms Sandra Boser, State Secretary, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports Baden-Württemberg); Innovation (facilitated by Mr Rikardo Lamadrid Intxaurraga, Director of Technology and Advanced Learning at the Department of Education of the Basque Government); Internationalisation (facilitated by M. Mercedes Chacón Delgado, Director General for Vocational Education and Training at the Ministry of Education of the Government of Catalonia and Susana Díaz, Deputy Director of Active Employment Policies of the Public Employment Service of Catalonia (SOC), Ministry of Business and Labour of the Government of Catalonia) and Attractiveness (facilitated by Ms Francesca D’Angelo, Policy Advisor – Research, Innovation, Digitalization, Skills, EU Liaison Office, Tuscany region), in lifelong learning. These sessions were organised by different member regions, and welcomed the contribution from key experts in European and international institutions, including MsChrystalla Petridou, Policy Offer Digital Education, DG EAC, European Commission; Mr Kenny Muscat, UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for TVET; Ms Solange Mifsud, Economic and Policy Analyst, Innovation Policies and Impact, Joint Research Centre; Mr Georgios Zisimos, Head of Policy advice and EU programming unit at the European Training Foundation (ETF); Ms Kozak Malgorzata, Erasmus+: Schools, vocational education and training, skills and Adult education, DG EAC, European Commission; Ms Anna Barbieri, Vocational Education and Training, CEDEFOP (EMPL.B.3) Unit, European Commission, DG and Ms Anne Hewitt, Associate Professor, Adelaide Law School, The University of Adelaide.
During the reception evening proposed by the EARLALL Network on June 20 from 17.30 – 20.00, regional and local authorities, as well as engaged Brussels stakeholders, were able to take stock of the opportunities and challenges of regions during the capacity-building efforts in lifelong learning of the year and beyond. It was opened by a keynote speech on Lifelong learning and upskilling pathways for an adaptable labour market by Mr Stefan Olsson, Deputy Director General, Jobs Skills and Social Policies, DG for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, European Commission. Mr Olsson underscored how the European Year of Skills was much less about implementation and more about shifting mindsets and increasing the dialogue on skills and being critical of what has been done to date. He reminded participants of the large sums of EU funds, 65 billion Euros, that have been mobilised and that are available for skills development at the EU level. While he stated this sum may still not be sufficient, regions and local authorities should consider how to use this money innovatively. Mr Olsson also underlined that 82 regions in 16 member states are still severely affected by the decline in the working population, and hence harnessing talents at the regional level is extremely important.
The evening then moved on to the panel discussion around the question of how it is possible to maximise Regional-EU synergies in the context of the Year of Skills. Throughout the discussion, Ms Cinzia del Rio, President of the Section of Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship (SOC) at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), highlighted that we should be considering more the challenges of implementing skills programs in remote regions and one solution is building partnerships at the local level. Mr.Csaba Borboly, a Member of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and rapporteur of the CoR opinion on the European Skills Agenda spoke about the need to continue political dialogue across regions. Ms Patricia Couti, Policy Advisor and Accredited Assistant to Dragoș Pîslaru, Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, stressed that the European Year of Skills is a momentum, and it is not about changing the workforce. She emphasized ensuring that sustainable systems need to be created, in the sense that we should be able to skill and upskill a workforce that can resist the changing labour market. Finally, Ms. Carina Gullberg Member of the Regional Assembly, EARLALL representative, Region Västra Götaland, brought a regional view by stating that validation of knowledge and experiences in other countries is paramount to ensuring the regional development of a skilled workforce.
The two-day event was closed with a speech from Ms Manuela Geleng, Director for Jobs and Skills, DG EMPL, European Commission on the role of the EU in upskilling and reskilling workers to meet labour market demands. She highlighted three key points. The first pertains to the importance of joining forces as reskilling and upskilling cannot be done alone, with a particular focus on the regional and local level, as they are the ones who know the on-the-ground needs the most. Secondly, Ms Geleng emphasised how important it is to turn words into real actions, with a privileged role for Individual Learning Accounts and Micro-credentials in achieving learning for all. Finally, Ms Geleng underlined that the regional and local levels must mobilise EU funding and take advantage of the initiatives on offer by the EU. She closed by congratulating EARLALL members for organising the two-day event, with a focus on being active and proactive in reskilling and upskilling.
Mr Jokin Bildarratz Sorron then thanked all EARLALL members for attending the event and summarised the discussions of the two days. He developed on Ms Geleng’s discussion, adding that each region faces its reality and mobilising EU funding at the regional level is not always easy, although exchanges such as this one are opportunities to explore common solutions together.
Finally, Mr Bodo Lehmann, Head of Representation at Representation of Baden-Württemberg to the European Union, expressed the delegation’s honour in hosting the event and in discussing important issues of lifelong learning in the venue.
Overall, this regional summit provided EARLALL’s regional political representatives with the optimum platform to collaborate on finding imaginative responses to the demands of our territories.