In the 2022 State of the Union address, President von der Leyen announced the Commission’s proposal to make 2023 the European Year of Skills. In its very first lines, the Berlaymont made it clear that it will work hard so that everyone has the right skills for the labour market. This will boost the economy, support SMEs, growth, the digital transition, the environment and more.
“The 2023 European Year of Skills […] represents a unique opportunity to support European companies, and especially small and medium-sized enterprises, “grappling with a shortage of staff” by putting “more focus in our investment on professional education and upskilling.”
Sounds great, right?
Not so fast.
Let’s open the newspaper today. War, political polarisation and the climate crisis dominate the front page. Some of these trends are mentioned in the Commission proposal, but the solution seems to be always the same:
Notice anything? Throughout the entire proposal, the word ‘worker’ appears 19 times in the text, ‘workforce’ is mentioned 20 times, ‘economy’ 22 times, ‘competitiveness’ 15 times. What about the word ‘democracy’? 4 times. ‘Citizen’? 3 times.
I find the results of my little semantic experiment rather concerning.
It is important that people get the right skills to work. Still, an approach focusing only on those skills that are directly applicable to the labour market is inherently flawed, short-sighted, and ultimately counterproductive.
As democracy and global freedom are increasingly at risk, civic skills must be given a central role in the upcoming European Year of Skills. Without healthy democracies and the protection of human rights, there can be no quality work. Education and lifelong learning have a lot to offer. A broad civic skillset – ranging from media literacy and advocacy skills to voter education and futures literacy for sustainability – is more important than ever to deal with the multiple crises that Europe is facing.
By upskilling citizens to engage meaningfully in public life, people will also acquire life skills – including empathy, learning to learn, and communication. Coincidentally, these skills are essential in the workplace too. But they are also key to making people feel included, valued, and confident in taking up new challenges in both their professional, personal, and social life.
To future-proof the European Year of Skills, it is not enough to radically expand our understanding of what skills are useful for: we should rethink how to support everyone in their learning journey. Approaches to civic skills that are able to broaden participation include:
It is, therefore, vital to fund and promote such programmes at the local, national and EU level: they provide a platform to enhance labour insertion and professional development, while creating more inclusive, civically engaged, and equal societies in Europe.
As the Parliament and the Council discuss the Commission’s proposal, it is not too late to design a European Year of Skills that allows everyone to express their full potential, valuing learning and skills throughout life, across different spaces (community, school, work, family etc.), and across borders. And making a real difference not only for the future of work, but also for our democracy
[Picture credits: Raúl Soria]
6 September 2022