Ten actions to help equip people in Europe with better skills – Frequently asked questions

Ten actions to help equip people in Europe with better skills – Frequently asked questions

Why does Europe need a New Skills Agenda?

In a fast-changing global economy, skills will to a great extent determine our competitiveness and capacity to drive innovation. They are also a pull factor for investment and a catalyst for job creation and growth. Europe’s future prosperity depends therefore on the optimal use of our human capital.

About 70 million Europeans1 lack sufficient reading, writing and numeracy skills, and 45% of the EU population lack a sufficient level of digital skills. This puts them at high risk of unemployment, poverty and social exclusion.

On the other hand, 40% of European employers report that they cannot find people with the right skills to grow and innovate2. At the same time, a large number of others, particularly high-qualified young people, work in jobs that do not match their talents and aspirations.

The New Skills Agenda for Europe aims to improve the teaching and recognition of skills – from basic to higher skills, as well as transversal and civic skills – and ultimately to boost employability. It also aims both to ensure that no-on is left behind and that Europe nurtures the high-end skills that drive competitiveness and innovation. The Agenda therefore contributes to the European Commission’s first political priority, “A New Boost for Jobs, Growth and Investment”.

What does the New Skills Agenda for Europe bring?

The new Skills Agenda for Europe launches a number of actions to ensure that the right training, the right skills and the right support is available to people in the European Union. It will aim at making better use of the skills that are available; equip people with the new skills that are needed – to help them find quality jobs and improve their life chances. The Commission invites Members States, social partners, the industry and other stakeholders to work together to:

  • Improve the quality and relevance of skills formation
  • Make skills more visible and comparable
  • Improve skills intelligence and information for better career choices

What is the new Skills Guarantee and how does it work?

To reduce the high number of low-skilled adults in Europe, the Commission is proposing that a Skills Guarantee is established in co-operation with social partners, education and training providers. The aim of the Skills Guarantee is to help people improve their chances of securing and maintaining good jobs and quality life. Through the Guarantee, low-skilled adults should be helped to acquire a minimum level of literacy, numeracy and digital skills and – when possible – a wider set of skills allowing them to get an upper secondary education qualification or equivalent. The Skills Guarantee should be open to people both in-work and out of work who are not covered by the Youth Guarantee, and implemented by Member States in line with national circumstances.

The Skills Guarantee would provide to adults who lack an upper secondary school qualification:

  • firstly, a skills assessment, giving them the chance to identify their existing skills and their upskilling needs;
  • secondly, a tailored learning offer, adapted to the specific needs of the individual and of local labour markets; and
  • thirdly, opportunities for the validation and recognition of the skills they acquire.

What will a review of the Key Competences3 Framework bring?

The Commission will propose to Member States to review the 2006 Recommendation on Key Competences in order to bring it in line with the economic and social transformations that have occurred in the last ten years.

The review will further support a common understanding of a core set of key competences needed to work and live in the 21st century and will foster their introduction in education and training curricula and national skills strategies. It will also provide support to better describe, develop, assess, validate and compare key competences and related skills, in formal, non-formal and informal learning environments. Special attention will be paid to entrepreneurial skills (helping people be more creative, proactive, opportunity-oriented, and innovative), including encouraging policies for all young people to have a practical entrepreneurial experience before they leave school.

What will the initiative on tertiary graduate tracking bring?

To help students and education providers assess the relevance of learning offers, the Commission will propose in 2017 an initiative on tertiary graduate tracking to improve information on how graduates progress on the labour market. Feedback from and about graduates and their jobs and careers is indeed highly valuable to universities and colleges and to governments. It shows what kinds of jobs graduates have, provides information on labour market trends, and gives feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of education programmes. It is also part of the information and guidance that prospective students and their families should have before students make their study choices. This kind of information is collected in some, but not all, Member States, and in different ways. This initiative will step up EU cooperation, to provide better and more comparable information about the jobs graduates do, how easily they get into jobs, and how they are using their skills and knowledge.

How will the Skills Agenda address digital skills through the “Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition”?

All actions of the New Skills Agenda mainstream and give priority to digital skills in policies at all levels (from basic to high-end). This initiative builds on the existing Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs. It calls on Member States to share best practices, develop comprehensive digital skills strategies on the basis of targets and bring digital competences to all levels of education and training. It also brings reinforced support to national coalitions connecting public authorities, business, education, training and labour market stakeholders, including social partners. The Coalition will contribute to develop a large pool of digital talent and ensure that people in Europe are equipped with adequate digital competences.

What are the benefits of the revision of the European Qualifications Framework (EQF)?

The upcoming review of the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) will make it easier to compare qualifications across countries and help learners, workers and employers to better understand what a job applicant knows and is capable of doing. The revised EQF will also facilitate the comparison and understanding of qualifications of third country nationals.

How will the “Skills Tool Kit for Third Country Nationals” support migrants?

An early identification of migrants’ skills can help better determine the first steps needed for their effective integration into EU societies and labour markets. The “Skills Tool Kit for Third Country Nationals” supports early profiling and assessing of skills and qualifications for asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants by the support services which work with them immediately upon arrival.

The Commission will also support the training of staff in reception facilities to allow faster recognition procedures, including by sharing of best practices and providing information on transparency and recognition of qualifications.

Online language learning will also be made available for newly arrived migrants and refugees through the Erasmus+ programme online linguistic support. Around 100.000 refugees will have the opportunity to benefit from online language courses over 3 years.

How will the new Europass help career and learning choices?

The new Europass will offer a wider range of tools and services through a user-friendly online tool to help people with career and learning choices. Europass will offer tools such as a CV-builder for documenting skills and qualifications, free self-assessment tools and information on skills and qualifications across Europe.

Using the data collected in the Skills Panorama, Europass will be empowered by web crawling and big data analysis, to assist career and learning choices with accurate and real-time information.

What will the Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation bring?

The “Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation on Skills” is an initiative to better match skills within specific sectors. It will support the set-up of sectoral skills partnerships, in industry and services, translate sectoral strategies for the next 5-10 years into identification of skills needs and development of concrete solutions, such as joint development of higher VET opportunities, business-education-research partnerships, promotion of agreements on the recognition of sectoral qualifications and certifications.

The Blueprint will help mobilise and coordinate key players of the economic sector, stimulate private investment and encourage a more strategic use of EU and national funding programmes.

The Blueprint will be supported by existing EU funding and initially piloted in a demand driven process in 6 sectors: automotive, defence, maritime technology, space, textile and tourism. Additional sectors (such as construction, steel, health, green technologies and renewable energies) will be assessed in a second wave.  The pilot sectors have been identified on the basis of dialogue with specific industrial sectors, evidence collected of skills gaps in the sector and their potential impact on jobs, growth, innovation, and competitiveness, and taking into account the strong political and stakeholder commitment at EU and national level.

How will the Agenda support the quality and attractiveness of vocational education and training (VET)?

To help VET learners get more exposure to the word of work, the Commission will develop a set of support services to facilitate knowledge sharing, networking and cooperation on apprenticeships in the context of the European Alliance for Apprenticeships, building on the excellent experience in engaging labour market actors.  The recently launched Pact for Youth will provide opportunities for 100 000 new opportunities for apprenticeships, internships or entry-level jobs, as well as build 10 000 business-education partnerships. To showcase vocational studies as a first class option, the Commission, working closely with a wide range of stakeholders, will launch a first European VET Skills Week in December 2016 and will make proposals for improving data availability on labour market outcomes of VET. Enhanced quality of VET provision will be pursued by supporting implementation of quality assurance arrangements at provider level.

How have the social partners been consulted?

A series of targeted stakeholder consultations were organised to discuss the scope and priorities of the EU Skills Agenda. Social partners, European civil society organisations, national Public Employment Services, European Social Fund Managing Authorities, policy networks (EQF, Europass, Euroguidance), European cities, education and training providers, national education and training policy makers all voiced their views on the proposed Skills Agenda.

What is the role of the Commission?

While competence for the content of teaching and the organisation of education and training systems lies with Member States, actions are needed at the EU level. Members States indeed meet similar challenges and opportunities such as skills mismatches, skills shortages and insufficient workers’ mobility, digital needs, ageing workforces, brain drain, or migratory flows.

The Commission will therefore play a coordinating role through common initiatives, frameworks and guidelines, and will offer support by sharing expertise and good practice.

What will be the cost for Member States, and do EU funds support the New Skills Agenda?

Principally the interventions of the European Investment and Structural Funds – the European Social Fund (ESF), the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) – will inject over €30 billion to support skills development in the current period 2014-2020. The ESF Programme can support implementation at national level with up to €79 billion being allocated to priorities for education, training and lifelong learning, social inclusion, and employment. An initial assessment of ESF Operational Programmes shows that Member States aim to target over 8 million low-skilled people under the education and training priority alone.

The Erasmus+ programme also supports skills development in education and training with nearly €15 billion. Other funds like the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) and Horizon 2020 meet the objectives of this Agenda. Full use should also be made of the potential offered by the EIB and other financial actors and products, including the European Fund for Strategic Investments, to boost private sector investment in skills development.

Costs for implementing the Skills Guarantee will vary from country to country, depending on several factors: share of low skilled in the adult population, extent of skills deficits in this group, national policy choices for implementation and extent of existing provision and infrastructure.

What would be the cost for society if we would not better and more invest in skills?

Any investment in skills would result in a substantial positive net return on such investment. Estimates by Cedefop show that a one percentage point increase in the intermediate skills of the adult population, could boost the GDP per capita growth rate by 0.99 percentage points. Based on the latest available Cedefop skills forecasts, if no additional action is taken, the share of low-qualified adults within the working age adult population in the EU would be 18.6% in 2020 and 16.6% in 2025.

Next steps: What is the timeline for the actions in the New Skills Agenda?

Action Timeline
Improving the quality and relevance of skills formation
Strengthening the foundations: basic skills Commission proposal for a Council Recommendation on establishment a Skills Guarantee (see ref. doc COM(2016) 382) June 2016
Building resilience: key competences and higher, more complex skills Commission proposal to review the Key Competences for Lifelong Learning with a special focus on promoting entrepreneurial mindsets, and the accompanying European Reference Frameworks 4st Quarter 2017
Making VET a first choice Commission proposals supporting VET modernisation, such as possible revision of the European Quality Assurance Reference Framework for Vocational Education and Training (EQAVET) and the European Credit System for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET) 2nd Quarter 2017
Getting connected: focus on digital skills Launch of the “Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition” End 2016
Making skills and qualifications more visible and comparable
Improving transparency and comparability of qualifications Commission proposal for the revision of the European Qualifications Framework (see ref. doc. COM(2016) 383) June 2016
Early profiling of migrants’ skills and qualifications Launch of the ” Skills Profile Tool for Third Country Nationals” to support early profiling and document skills of asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants June 2016
Advancing skills intelligence, Documentation and informed career choices
Better intelligence and information for better choices Commission proposal for the revision of the Europass Framework for the provision of better services for skills and qualifications 3rd quarter 2016
Better intelligence and information for better choices Further analysis and sharing of best practice to tackle brain drain. End 2016
Boosting skills intelligence in economic sectors Launch of a Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation on Skills June 2016
Better understanding the performance of graduates Commission proposal for a an initiative on Graduate Tracking 2nd Quarter 2017


1 The Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC): Implications for education and training policies in Europe, European Commission, 2013

2 Eurofound, 3rd European Company Survey

3 The key competences include ‘traditional’ skills such as communication in one’s mother tongue, foreign languages, digital skills, literacy, and basic skills in maths and science, as well as horizontal skills such as learning to learn, social and civic responsibility, initiative and entrepreneurship, cultural awareness, and creativity.

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