Lifelong Learning

Trade union strategies

Resolution adopted by the ETUC Executive Committee,

13-14 June 2001, Brussels



Lifelong learning for all: a challenge for Europe

1.       The European Union is facing major challenges as a result of the globalisation of markets and economies and the introduction of new technologies, especially information and communication technologies (ICT). These challenges have a direct impact on job creation, as well as on the organisation of work, services and production.

2.       The promotion of innovation, the strengthening of social and territorial cohesion, access to knowledge and information, the promotion of social inclusion and integration into employment must be part of any successful solution to these challenges. Every citizen must make a meaningful contribution if the objectives of full employment and the creation of a knowledge-based society are to be achieved.

3.       The ETUC considers that the knowledge-based society represents new opportunities for everyone, but most not create new categories of social excluded and must ensure that individuals can acquire the knowledge, skills and qualifications - the instruments - to enable them to react in the face of the rapid evolution of society and the labour market, by providing the right response at the right time to each citizen. Access to lifelong learning contributes to individual development and individual fulfilment, the promotion of equal opportunities, the development of active citizenship and promotes greater social cohesion and integration in the context of societies which are becoming increasingly multi-cultural; it also stimulates economic development. In a word, it is essential to  strengthen the European social model. That is why the ETUC does not accept the essentially employment-related view that is often adopted as regards the role of lifelong learning.

4.       Europe must construct a new culture of lifelong learning. In order to accomplish that, it must develop innovative and integrated approaches, as well as greater synergies between the different policies and the authorities responsible for their implementation, both nationally and at European level; this means defining the new objectives, new rights and new responsibilities of the actors concerned. It is obvious that the promotion of a high quality lifelong learning policy will not be enough on its own to solve the serious problems of unemployment, social exclusion, poverty and under-development in certain regions, as well as the mismatch between qualifications and skills in relation to the labour market’s needs.

5.       The ETUC considers that this new approach involves not only far-reaching changes as regards education and vocational training systems, which must be reformed, improved and modernised in order to satisfy the needs of the individual, of society and of the economy, but also requires greater co-operation between the different actors and new forms of management, information, consultation and participation, in order to contribute fully to the European objective of full employment, a better distribution of income, the promotion of high qualifications and to achieve a better balance between professional life and family life.

6.       The European strategy in favour of employment, in which education and vocational training are a transversal objective in the employment guidelines, the conclusions of the Lisbon Summit (emphasising its importance for a successful transition to a knowledge-driven economy and society), the conclusions of the Feira Summit (inviting the Member States, the Commission and the social partners to define consistent strategies and practical measures to ensure that lifelong learning is accessible to everyone), the conclusions of the Nice European Summit and in particular the adoption of the Social Agenda and those of the Stockholm European Council (calling for an action plan in favour of lifelong learning to be presented to the Barcelona European Council in March 2002) and the European Commission’s Memorandum on Lifelong Learning, can be considered as providing the basis for a new start and for a real European strategy guaranteeing the establishment and implementation of mechanisms to ensure that lifelong learning becomes a reality, as the ETUC has demanded for several years.

7.       In its Communication to the Stockholm European Council entitled “Realising the European Union’s potential”, the Commission recognises the lack of progress achieved in the framework of the European employment strategy with regard to the implementation of lifelong learning, in particular with regard to the fixing of national objectives. The urgency of the challenge highlights the need to involve in a concrete way all the actors that share, albeit to differing degrees, the responsibility for lifelong learning at the different levels: the European institutions, the national public authorities, the social partners, the bodies responsible for education and training, as well as the individuals. Their roles and responsibilities, as well as their rights and duties must be clearly defined.

8.       The time has come to translate words into actions, and in co-operation with its affiliated organisations, but also in the framework of the European social dialogue, the ETUC has clearly demonstrated its strong commitment to action.

Structural conditions required

9.       The implementation of lifelong learning and its contribution to meeting the challenges of an increasingly complex social and political world, require that the appropriate structural conditions are established, in particular with regard to issues such as access, investment and partnerships.

Access to lifelong learning

10.     For the ETUC, the first of these conditions concerns the recognition, at national and European levels, of the individual right of access to lifelong learning. Independently of their status, workers must be able to capitalise and transfer this right, especially in the context of increased geographical and professional mobility.

11.     This individual right of access to each individual irrespective of his or her status must be collectively guaranteed and must be conceived in terms of time and resources. It implies a new vision of the “time” factor, culminating in establishing a better balance between time devoted to private life, work and apprenticeship, going beyond the objective of merely increasing employability, and also means devising innovative forms of investment and new ways of using the resources available. In addition, it must involve a redefinition of curricula, be of high quality, concern all phases of education and training (nursery school, primary school, secondary school, higher education, training for adults) and deal with questions such as the relations between formal, non-formal and informal education, while recognising the need for all individuals to receive ongoing training, irrespective of their age, their specific individual needs and the time and place when they acquire skills, which are increasingly diversified.

12.     At company level, access  is still very much restricted to those who already have a fairly high level of qualifications and access remains practically impossible for older workers, those with atypical contracts (in particular women), seasonal workers, ethnic minorities, disabled people or those having a low level of basic qualifications.

13.     Access to lifelong learning is also closely linked to each individual’s motivations: career advancement, with obtaining new qualifications, skills or a better salary, geographical or professional mobility, enhanced employability, the quality of the training available which must take account of previous training experiences, irrespective of whether they have been successful, or simply self-fulfilment.

14.     Employers must also be motivated and consider access to lifelong learning in terms of its strategic potential as a way of improving a company’s performance and labour relations.

15.     Trade union organisations must also play an essential role in motivating employees with regard to the benefits of lifelong learning. Through collective bargaining or trade union training programmes at all levels, trade union organisations must contribute to increasing the awareness of workers and trade union delegates of the challenges posed by the knowledge-based society.

Increased investment in human resources

16.     Meeting the challenges of the information society, where training is no longer limited to a single event, but becomes an integral part of life, where training satisfies not only a need to adapt to a job, a specific task or for reasons of career development, but also corresponds to the strategic objectives of a company or society and helps to enhance the employability of individuals and their social integration, implies greater personal motivation and investment, in terms of both quantity and quality.

17.     Today, it is widely acknowledged that the level of investment of governments and employers in lifelong learning is far from adequate, both as regards more “traditional sectors” and ICT (research and development, software, telecommunications, etc.).

18.     The level of public expenditure in the field of education continues to be far below the requisite level, in particular with regard to the commitments entered into at the Lisbon European Summit. Member States did not set specific targets in terms of a substantial annual increase in the percentage of GDP to be invested in the development of human resources.

19.     The use of structural funds and notably the European Social Fund, as well as other Community programmes in the area of education, training, employment as well as R&D, confirms the need for concerted action at all levels involving the participation of all  actors.

20.     For the ETUC, the traditional model used for determining the responsibilities of the different actors in terms of investment needs to be revised: employers responsible for training within their company, individuals paying for personal training courses, the public authorities responsible for training for unemployed people and social excluded. The interests of companies and those of individuals as regards training are becoming increasingly inter-linked. The ETUC believes that the provision of concrete solutions for individual or collective needs as regards training, including in SMEs, requires new models and a combination of different sources of financing for lifelong learning. The situation of SME, specific because of their size and their need for qualified workers, must be taken into account in this context.

21.     In this regard, the Memorandum on Lifelong Learning sets out a series of ideas and incentives, either for companies (in particular by way of tax breaks), or for individuals (learning accounts, subsidised training leave, systems of “competence insurance”, etc.). The ETUC wishes to emphasise that an investment in human resources must not be seen as a cost for companies, but as  investment enabling companies to innovate in terms of products and organisation, increase productivity and competitiveness, maintain and develop the employability of their employees, as well as providing a way of absorbing unemployed people into employment, as emphasised in the report drawn up by the Gyllenhammar high-level group on the management of industrial change.

22.     However, recent research data obtained by the European Commission do not seem to confirm that companies are increasingly aware of such benefits. According to the data, 45% of blue-collar workers and 73.5% of white-collar workers use a computer in the normal course of their work; nevertheless, only 22% have received ICT training and only 16.7% have followed a training programme paid for by their company. This demonstrates clearly that individuals are financing their own training, without the support of the public authorities or employers. If employers persist in this policy, it will be very difficult, as the ETUC wishes, to include in the framework of the collective bargaining process at different levels, the implementation of the conditions to allow every worker to acquire, by the year 2003, an information society culture, as recommended by the employment guidelines.

23.     Alongside the responsibility for financing from public authorities which remains essential, two major patterns are emerging as regards the question of investment: the use of collective funds, resulting from bipartite or tripartite agreements and the use of individual “learning accounts”.

24.     While recognising the need to implement an approach based on shared responsibility as regards the financing of lifelong learning, where the individual also has part of the responsibility, notably in relation to his or her own motivation and learning capacity, the ETUC cannot accept that the main responsibility for this financing should lie with the individual, thereby ignoring the primordial role and principal responsibility of the public authorities and employers in this area. Thus, the individual “learning accounts” are one of the elements of financing training and are above all appropriate for financing learning programmes freely chosen by the individual.

25.     Moreover, this investment must not be limited to the “money” dimension. Alongside the financial resources, other resources must be taken into consideration, such as learning time, the recognition of the results of training and the organisation of work and training.

Time for training

26.     Learning and training requires time, whether it be free time or working time. Thus, the lifelong learning policy and working time policy must be related and the social partners must negotiate a new balance between working time and training time.

27.     While recognising the diversity of situations and practices at national level including the size of companies,  ETUC considers that new models for the organisation of time in companies must be developed and negotiated through “time credits” for each worker, whereby for example, overtime is recorded in special “accounts” which can be used for rest periods or training periods that can be capitalised, leading to a distribution of training time between employers and workers, or alternatively through an agreement, negotiated with the social partners, fixing a minimum number of hours per year to be devoted to vocational training.

28.     Training leave is another important instrument. Even if experience shows that, in order to be effective, this right must be linked to a human resources development policy and measures to provide information to participants, the ETUC considers that the right to be absent from work to follow a training programme is one of the cornerstones of the European social model and the construction of a knowledge-driven society. The right of individuals to training leave is an important part of any active labour market policy, in particular in the framework of any job rotation system, and can contribution to reducing unemployment and modernising the economy.

The recognition of the results of learning: formal, non formal and informal learning

29.     Promoting the recognition of the results of learning is a complex but very important task, to the extent that it is a way of guaranteeing the transferability of qualifications to other work contexts, other companies, or within the context of geographical mobility, thereby contributing to individual motivation and employability.

30.     The ETUC considers that the solution to this challenge lies in the training policy itself, together with collective bargaining and the reorganisation of work.

31.     Non-formal learning, notably that acquired in the workplace, will become as important as formal learning. A successful lifelong learning policy implies above all meeting its cultural challenge, increasing awareness of its needs among all the actors and above all in establishing greater co-operation between employers and trade unions in the field of learning at the workplace.

32.     Ensuring the recognition of the skills and qualifications obtained in a non-formal context, as well as the “accreditation of prior learning” (acquired at work or in another context) falls within the scope of the responsibilities of the social partners, at the most appropriate levels; this means that they must be in a position to contribute to the definition, accreditation and recognition of such by the institutions responsible for education and training, as well as their inclusion in national systems.

The organisation of work and training

33.     A new organisation of work implies the creation of conditions that are favourable to learning in the workplace.

34.     The identification of needs in terms of training and qualifications within the company, together with the information, consultation and active participation of workers and their representatives, is a key element in a modern human resources development strategy, leading to the promotion of a high level of skills within the company, increased productivity and competitiveness, as well as the development of “learning organisations”. These results must translate into greater motivation among employees, an increase in the quality and safety of jobs, as well as a new definition of pay systems.

35.     The ETUC believes that the social partners must negotiate several instruments to facilitate the identification of training needs as well as access for everyone to lifelong learning within companies: the establishment of training plans, the identification of the company’s needs as well as individual needs, through regular skill evaluation programmes, are clearly part of this strategy.

A new partnership concept

36.     For the ETUC, a strong and dynamic partnership between all the actors concerned in the promotion of lifelong learning is a fundamental condition for the successful implementation of the policies.

37.     While recognising the shared responsibility of individuals, the social partners and the bodies responsible for education and training, the public authorities at different levels are responsible for ensuring social equality, through consistent policies, appropriate financing, equal access, the quality of educational and vocational training systems, as well as their capacity to anticipate and adapt to changes and new requirements.

The role of education and vocational training systems – skills for every individual

38.     The systems must provide the right answers at the right time in order to satisfy individual needs and those of the economy and of society.

39.     The changeover from the concept of learning being limited in time to seeing all learning as a seamless continuum, with the dimension of such learning and the time devoted to it being an integral part of reconciling professional life and private life, means attaching increasing importance to the decisive  role that information, guidance, support and advice must play, as a service permanently accessible to all and increasingly tailored to the needs of individuals.

40.     The ETUC considers that it is necessary to analyse existing services with a view to making them more consistent and efficient with regard to the new needs, by consolidating the links between the different types of learning, between school and the world of work, and by establishing a closer relationship with the social partners, in order to reduce the mismatch between supply and demand in terms of qualifications.

41.     It also necessary to ensure greater mobility and more flexible options between the different educational channels, including at university level, and vocational training, through the promotion of modular systems.

42.     The ETUC considers that the education and training systems must also develop new approaches in relation to their capacity to provide each individual with the “traditional” basic skills, as well as the new technical and social skills, essential to the construction of the knowledge-based society.

43.     Local authorities remain primarily responsible for basic education, in terms of quality as well as access. Young people must succeed at school and in their initial training, which should provide them with comprehensive basic skills. They must also obtain adequate basic qualifications that are recognised by the labour market, including linguistic, technological and social skills. Adults with low levels of qualifications must have the right to acquire a basic education equivalent to that of young people completing their compulsory schooling.

44.     A common framework must be established at European level in order to define the new basic skills, while recognising that technical skills must be part of a wider programme of general social and employment-related skills, that supplement specialist know-how.

45.     While recognising the importance of the new ICT skills, the ETUC wishes to point out that the so-called “traditional” sectors of the economy also have new needs in terms of skills and qualifications, in particular in areas concerning social needs which are as yet not adequately satisfied, such as for example care to elderly people or to children or in relation to the development of active European citizenship, characterised by common values and by the construction of an increasingly multicultural and multilingual society.

46.     The ETUC considers that the dynamism and the ongoing evolution of the knowledge-based economy require an equally dynamic analysis in terms of qualifications needs. In order to be able to respond to present and future needs, it is necessary to create tools for anticipating changes; this is a prerequisite for monitoring needs in terms of skills and qualification and establishing appropriate guidelines, instead of allowing them to be determined by purely technical factors.

47.     Europe is faced with a skills gap and a mismatch between the professional qualifications available on the market and the needs of several sectors in the “new economy”. Beyond the projections, which indicate that in 2003 the skills gap in these sectors is expected to involve around 1.7 million jobs, it is essential that, in the framework of the European employment strategy, measures are taken in order to reintegrate into the labour market all those people who are currently excluded from the market, through appropriate guidance and vocational training measures, thereby helping to reduce skills gaps as well as unemployment.

48.     Accordingly, the ETUC agrees that there is a need to anticipate changes and identify new needs in terms of skills, by relying above all on the new European Observatory on changes, as well as on a wide range of bodies at European and national levels, in which the social partners must play an active role.

Innovation in teaching and training methods - the role of teachers and trainers

49.     The development of new teaching and training methods, capable of meeting individual needs implies teaching material with contents suited to the needs and learning speeds of the different target groups  and the growing use of ICT, as well as the expansion of different forms of training, as is the case for e-learning. The ETUC considers that the consolidation of infrastructures and access to ICT, with the need to ensure at the same time the quality of the methods and contents, is a major challenge.

50.     Over and above this major concern as regards quality, the new methods must motivate, encourage the development of a critical mind and stimulate the commitment and active or interactive participation of not only the students, but also of teachers and trainers. They also have a significant impact on the organisation of work of teachers, trainers and other people employed in the education sector; this organisation of work must be the subject of negotiations between the social partners. In this case, there is an urgent need to develop appropriate ICT qualifications for teachers and trainers.

51.     Several European countries are faced with the problem of a lack of skilled workers in several sectors, notably in the areas of education and training. This situation requires a co-ordinated response at the level of the Member States and the European Union. Over the next ten years, approximately two million teachers and trainers must be trained and recruited merely for the formal education sector. This situation represents an opportunity to promote the European dimension in this profession, while respecting the national responsibility. The European Union should set up a European Teacher Training Institute with, as its main task, the promotion of mobility and co-operation between national institutes in areas such as research, as well as the exchange of good practices and supplementary training courses.

Bringing learning closer to home

52.     The ETUC considers that it is of the greatest importance to bring learning closer to home and that this concern should guide all policies and economic development and social cohesion actions. It is necessary, as part of the European employment strategy, to set up local learning centres offering a wide range of skills, and also to establish, at local and regional level, mutually beneficial partnerships, including in particular the implementation of territorial and local employment pacts. This will make it possible to optimise the use of existing infrastructures, identify needs in terms of new infrastructures, both socially, thereby making a genuine contribution to the promotion of equal opportunities, and as regards ICT, the cost of access to which must be reduced. Basing the future of lifelong learning on the local dimension also means taking into account the role of companies, as well as increasing the responsibilities of the social partners to take into consideration the needs of the labour market and the present and future development of sources of employment.

The specific role of the social partners

53.     The main responsibility of the implementation of lifelong learning within companies lies with the social partners, with collective bargaining being the ideal procedure for identifying the conditions that are conducive to the promotion of access to lifelong learning and to the development of qualifications and skills for all employees, in particular those who have lower levels of qualifications, women, older workers and those who have atypical contracts.

54.     The experience developed in the framework of the social dialogue at national and European levels shows that there is a large consensus in concerning any analysis of the outstanding problems and the challenges which need to be faced. Nevertheless, this consensus is more difficult when it comes to identifying ideas for joint actions, with a view to defining new rights and new responsibilities in implementing lifelong learning.

55.     Since 1991, the ETUC has proposed to employers at European level the negotiation of a voluntary agreement on access to lifelong learning, but they have always rejected the idea.

56.     The ETUC considers that the social partners at European level must assume their own responsibilities in this area, defining jointly principles and lines of action and committing themselves to putting forward recommendations to be implemented by their respective organisations at national level.

57.     The ETUC takes very seriously the work carried out to date in the framework of the ad hoc Education-Training group of the Social Dialogue. This work should result in a framework agreement on the modalities for facilitating access of workers to lifelong learning.