Potentials of vocational training in times of crisis - Impulses for Europe

Friedrich Hubert Esser

Dear readers

The consequences of the coronavirus crisis have left all countries in the European Union facing major education and employment policy challenges. The fear must be that severe economic downturn will lead to a renewed rise in youth unemployment in Europe, just as levels were beginning to fall. This makes it even more important at the present time to strengthen vocational education and training and to support company involvement in training in particular.

Seizing the consequences of the crisis as an opportunity

In Germany, we have tackled the challenges arising in different ways. Training continued to take place via the use of digital media wherever possible. It was relocated to home offices in many places, thus providing a considerable boost to the process of digitalisation that was already ongoing within vocational education and training. Nevertheless, concerns remain regarding training places and the commitment of the companies. The actions undertaken by all stakeholders over the coming weeks will also be driven by the associated questions of how demand for training and the appeal of initial and continuing training can be strengthened. At the same time, further challenges such as the skilled worker shortage, demographic development, digitalisation of the world of work and the fostering of sustainability all still need to be conquered. The focus must be on grasping the effects of the crisis as an impetus for innovation in initial and continuing vocational education and training and on making use of them by drawing on experiences gleaned from crises that have been successfully overcome in the past.

Setting the course for 2030

When Germany took over the presidency of the Council of the European Union for the second half of 2020, it adopted the motto: “Together for Europe’s recovery”.

2020 represents an important milestone for German and European VET policy. The European Commission endorsed the Lisbon Strategy two decades ago (2000). Ten years later, it embraced the successor “Europe 2020” Strategy and the Bruges Communiqué for greater European cooperation in vocational education and training. This has led to a number of achievements in the area of VET during the intervening period. A European Qualifications Framework was introduced. In conjunction with the national qualifications frameworks, this is having a particular effect in terms of establishing equivalence between vocational and higher education. The development of company-based training has accelerated right across Europe. The Erasmus+ programme has made mobility in VET much more self-evident and is therefore helping to enhance the attractiveness of vocational education and training for trainees and companies alike.

The European Initiative on Vocational Excellence and the criteria which have been set out for high quality and sustainable apprenticeship training in Europe have both established the course towards a European vision of vocational education and training in the year 2030. The new European Commission’s Work Programme is seeking to promote competences, education and inclusion to make the European Education Area a reality by 2025. Europe is taking on the same challenges that Germany has set itself. These are the digitalisation of vocational education and training, the advancement of competences in order to secure employability (EU Skills Agenda, further development of the Youth Guarantee) and the expansion of continuing vocational training.

The coronavirus pandemic has placed a particular question mark over the ability of vocational education and training in Europe to deal with a crisis. Budget negotiations at EU level have not yet been concluded, and this is a further factor that needs to be taken into account. The guiding principle within this process must be the expansion of excellence in vocational education and training in order to facilitate lifelong learning and shape attractive career pathways. This is something to which BIBB is also committed.


Prof. Dr. Friedrich Hubert Esser
President of BIBB


Translation from the German original (published in BWP 3/2020): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin