Vocational education and training in times of global crisis

A preliminary evaluation of the German Presidency of the EU Council

Julia Himstedt, Isabelle Le Mouillour

Germany chaired the Council of the European Union from July to December 2020. Following the formation of the new EU Commission, one of the major tasks pursued during this period was to review the strategic framework for European cooperation in vocational education and training (“Europe 2020”) and to define fresh priorities for the next ten years. This article makes an initial assessment of how well this succeeded given the conditions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Tasks within the scope of the EU Council Presidency

The Presidency of the EU Council is associated with representing the interests of all European Member States in the Council of the European Union. The country holding the presidency takes on a special chairing role. Until December 2021, Germany will form a “presidency trio” together with the two succeeding countries, Portugal and Slovenia. These three Member States will collaborate closely over a period of 18 months in order to ensure continuity of policy priorities, to set main focuses and to support one another in hosting official ministerial meetings and meetings of the Council of the European Union.1

In 2020, the German Presidency of the EU Council coincided with a significant milestone for vocational education and training—a review of the 2010 strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (“Europe 2020”). A concurrent undertaking was the development of priorities for the next ten years.

Vocational education and training is within the remit of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in Germany. The BMBF commissioned BIBB with providing specialised technical policy support during the German EU Council Presidency.



VET policy prioritisation and European initiatives

Figure: Main VET policy initiatives Foto-Download (Bild, 1.7 MB)

The European Skills Agenda was presented in July 2020 by the von der Leyen Commission (2019–2024). It comprises an action plan made up of twelve packages of measures and it links major future topics such as sustainability and digitalisation with lifelong learning and with further development of the continuing training sector in particular. Two of the twelve flagship actions are dedicated to vocational education and training in Europe (see figure).

  • Proposal for a Council Recommendation on Vocational Education and Training for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience
  • The Pact for Skills, launched as part of the European Vocational Skills Week in November 2020

In November 2020, the German EU Council Presidency initiative, the Osnabrück Declaration, was adopted in addition to the main initiatives of the European Commission. The Osnabrück Declaration is a joint declaration by the European ministers in charge of vocational education and training in the Member States, the European Commission and European social partners. It seeks to operationalise the goals of the Skills Agenda and of the Council Recommendation by stating specific actions in the area of vocational education and training at national and European level.

The Osnabrück Declaration is characterised by the concept of resilience which has gained new relevance against the background of the coronavirus pandemic. Within this context, resilience should be viewed as the ability of VET stakeholders and VETsystems to react and adapt to unforeseeable developments. Resilient vocational education and training systems are well equipped to meet changes which are observable over the long term, such as increasingly hybrid VET programmes, the necessity of flexible learning pathways and the growing heterogeneity of learners in vocational education and training (cf. MARKOWITSCH/ HEFLER 2019).

European Vocational Skills Week

  • The European Vocational Skills Week is an annual initiative organised by the European Commission to raise the visibility and the attractiveness of initial and continuing vocational education and training.
  • It took place from 9 to 13 November 2020 and was held in virtual form for the first time due to the pandemic.
  • European activities at a local and regional level relating to the topics of digital and ecological change were covered during the week. A major VET conference took place on 11 and 12 November 2020.

Further information: https://ec.europa.eu/social/vocational-skills-week/ european-vocational-skills-week-2017_en


The initiatives focus on the goal of prioritising and boosting the potential of vocational education and training in Europe over the next decade. Three topics will give the main direction at European level during the coming years.

  1. Continuing training culture  – The digital shift requires new competencies, and the aim is that these will be acquired through continuing training provision. Lifelong learning should be seen as natural and normal way to gain new skills throughout the whole life.
  2. Equality of opportunity – Flexible and diverse education and training programmes are designed to open equal opportunities for all. The objective is an open and inclusive vocational education and training system.
  3. VET staff  – Vocational teachers and trainers play a crucial role in VET systems. Therefore, VET teachers and trainers shall receive support in the fulfilment of their tasks and that attractive career pathways will be created for them.

The different goals of European VET policy create a conflict between excellence and inclusion. The conflict lays between the growing demand for VET on tertiary level and the need for open and inclusive access opportunities for a heterogeneous target group at the same time. Another area of conflict is emerging between initial and continuing vocational education and training. After years of prioritising Initial vocational education and training (IVET), continuing vocational education and training (CVET) is now becoming a greater policy priority. Extensive funding is available to VET stakeholders via a European financial framework that extends over several years2 and programmes such as Erasmus+ or “Next Generation EU”. It will be very interesting to observe the implementation of VET priorities in the diverse VET systems across Europe in the next decade.




MARKOWITSCH, J.; HEFLER, G.: Future Developments in Vocational Education and Training in Europe: Report on reskilling and upskilling through formal and vocational education training, Seville: European Commission, 2019, JRC 117691.

Project Officer at BIBB

Head of the International VET Comparison, Research and Monitoring Division at BIBB


Translation from the German original (published in BWP 1/2021): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin