Education, training and skills for a brighter future
A partnership between UNICEF and the European Training Foundation (ETF) aims to prepare young people for the 21st century across the Europe and Central Asia region
Despite high enrolment rates in primary and secondary education in the Europe and Central Asia Region, millions of children and adolescents are still not in school. Millions more leave school without the skills they need to make their mark in the world of work, or participate fully in their societies. Children from the most marginalized groups – including those from remote rural areas, minorities and others – are the most likely to miss out on these skills. School curricula in many parts of the Region still focus on the rigid learning of facts and figures, rather than the flexible skills needed for a productive life in the 21st century.
The resulting skills gap is contributing to high rates of youth unemployment in many countries across the Region, as well as large numbers of young people aged 15 to 24 who are not in education, employment or training (NEET).
To respond to this skills gap, the UNICEF Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia (ECARO) and the European Training Foundation (ETF) have launched a new partnership to promote education, skills and training for young people in the Region. This regional partnership aims to help countries develop the systemic and policy changes required to make their education, training and skills development systems fit for the future.
It represents a joint contribution to Generation Unlimited – a global partnership of governments, multilateral organizations, civil society, the private sector and young people from around the world – that aims to prepare young people to become productive and engaged citizens.
Specific activities will include joint advocacy and work with EU Delegations, as well as regional analyses and guidance for skills development. The partnership will facilitate the participation of young people in education-sector reforms and discussions on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) through U-Report consultations and other processes that give adolescents and young people the chance to express their views and inform the ETF-led Torino Process, which scrutinises TVET systems.
As the partnership gets underway, ETF Director Cesare Onestini shares his perspectives on the priorities and challenges ahead.
What trends are shaping the future of work in Europe and Central Asia?
Recent ETF research on future work reveals digitalization and automation, demographic challenges (particularly migration), and joblessness as the key shapers of the future. These trends are not surprising, but what is really noteworthy is that countries are affected in very different ways by the same trends and there is a growing realization that investment in human capital will determine who benefits most. Meanwhile, the ability to upgrade knowledge at regular intervals is emerging as a real challenge across economic sectors.
So how can public actors, as well as businesses, face these changes? First, it is important to recognize that the legacies of the past still influence economic development, education delivery and employment patterns today. So reforms are needed to unlock untapped potential. Second, skills development and job creation have to be part of the same plan to modernize economies and boost (knowledge-based) services. Third, the urban – rural divide remains a challenge everywhere with rural areas facing services that are of lower quality (including education), as well as reduced employment and investment opportunities. And this becomes an even bigger problem – and a more important missed opportunity – in more knowledge-based economies. The common thread for all countries is the crucial role of education and training in enabling them to develop and thrive.
In an uncertain world, shaped by rapid technological change and a digital revolution, investing in young people is more important than ever. In your opinion, what skills do young people need for the job market?
If we are going to ensure that young people have the right skills for the future labour market, we must have sound policies and programmes, as well as effective partnerships between the public and private sectors. At ETF, we advise our partner countries to address the challenges of education and training by supporting multi-country debates on future skills and work needs and providing technical advice on how to re-shape work-based learning to meet future needs for innovation, competitiveness and smart specialization across skills-development strategies. We also focus on how young people can make a successful transition from school to work through regular surveys on graduates and the design of efficient schemes to help them gain work experience.
Education reforms are needed to consolidate basic skills, such as reading and mathematics, and complement them with key and transferable digital and entrepreneurial skills, for example. The most important skill for the future is to prepare young people to continue their learning process from school to work and throughout their lives and careers.
What kinds of partnerships are needed to shape skills policies for the future?
The challenges in reforming skills policies call for new approaches to develop and deliver education and training. And indeed, new forms of collaboration are emerging to go beyond established patterns. Partnerships between the public and private sector, in particular, are one way to transform over-centralization steered by governments alone into co-creation, co-management and co-funding.
Across a growing number of countries, regional and local levels are being increasingly empowered. Researchers and analysts are now more involved in skills policies, reviewing countries’ needs and providing sophisticated foresight, as well as and skills analyses by sector. Training providers are growing in autonomy, striking alliances and agreements at territorial level, and have greater independence on teaching methods and selection. These trends offer real potential for the creation of new forms of partnership across leaders and administrators, social partners, and civil society organisations to promote and support better policy outcomes.
How can UNICEF and ETF work together to help countries in the Region develop systemic and policy changes to make education, training and skills development fit for the future?
I value the new partnership between UNICEF and ETF to support countries in their reform efforts. In line with our mandates, we are both committed to contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which demands education, training and skills that are fit for the future. At ETF, our priority is to enhance the relevance of human capital development within a lifelong learning perspective. Our organizations complement each other in terms of our knowledge, expertise and methodologies on education, training and skills development.
And we share a common goal: to support countries as they reform and modernize their education and training. As a result, we often work with the same partners, including Ministries of Education, Labour, Economy, and major employers in the world of work. I am convinced that our cooperation and partnership will help to provide solutions to human-capital development challenges at both country and regional level. Our key principles for partnership are regular dialogue and exchange, complementarity and synergy of interventions for both youth and adults.
Montenegro provides a great example. Here, ETF findings and recommendations emerging from a Governance and Finance Review and a Skills Mismatch measurement survey were shared with UNICEF to inform the development of the education-sector strategy. In Serbia , Kosovo (UNSCR 1244) and North Macedonia , UNICEF colleagues have contributed to the discussion of the ETF Torino Process Analysis, a periodic review of initial and continuing TVET for the labour market.
At regional level, this partnership will inform regional policy dialogue and interventions, drawing on the work of ETF on the Torino Process and the upcoming UNICEF ECA Regional Skills Framework. Similarly, UNICEF and ETF cooperation has already enriched discussions at the recent meeting of Education Ministers of Western Balkans in Belgrade to discuss the quality of education.
These are important steps in the right direction – steps that need to be extended to other countries in the Western Balkans, Central Asia and the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood. We hope that the partnership between ETF and UNICEF will encourage country authorities to reinforce donor coordination that will, in turn, supports lifelong modern and innovative education