The European Commission’s Skills Agenda supporting post-lockdown recovery

Camilla Palla

The green transition and digital revolution are the pillars of the strategy of the new Commission led by Ursula Von der Leyen. However, that is more. These two ambitious objectives are to be pursued through a cross-cutting approach on a number of further priorities considered essential for the strengthening of the Union as a whole, both internally and internationally. Amongst these, one of the key initiatives is the new Skills Agenda, launched by the European Commission at the beginning of July.

At policy level, a programme to strengthen and renew skills for all European citizens had already been launched in 2016. However, with the advent of the new Commission and, above all, the crisis resulting from the coronavirus, the new Skills Agenda proposes a real paradigm shift to make the most of the green and digital transition and support the post-Covid-19 recovery.

The implementation of the European Green Deal and the creation of a Europe ready for the digital age presuppose a radical transformation of the industrial sector and, more generally, of the entire internal market. At the same time, these ambitious objectives must ensure that this transition is fair and equal for all of the European social fabric and, above all, will not leave any citizens behind, in line with the European pillar of social rights. Equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions, social protection and inclusion are the starting points for launching the new European skills agenda.

The pandemic has disrupted the labour market, education and society in general, leading to a multi-sectoral crisis that requires a strong approach aimed at increasing the resilience of the entire economic system. Many European citizens will have to acquire new skills or improve existing ones to adapt to the new labour market.

The European Union will support this process through a structured agenda of 12 actions, which will be measured qualitatively and quantitatively on the basis of existing indicators and which will allow progress to be monitored annually.

The actions, focusing on skills for employment, require a high level of collaboration with Member States, business and civil society supporting and promoting change. The first action, which provides for the introduction of a European Skills Pact, is to establish a solid framework on which to develop the whole strategy in practice. The aim is to ensure that the right to training and long-life learning, enshrined in the European pillar of social rights, becomes a reality throughout Europe.

This agenda will need a strong funding programme, which will need to be underpinned by the new Multiannual Financial Framework under discussion in recent weeks. The Commission’s proposal for NextGenerationEU provides an additional pool of resources to address the economic and social consequences resulting from the Covid-19 crisis. It will enable the strategy proposed by the Skills Agenda to be taken forward, in line with the European Council conclusions of last 8 June, which underlined “reskilling” and “upskilling” as pillars for increasing sustainability and employment for economic and social recovery.

In support of this initiative, financial resources will be mobilised, also involving additional European financial tools, with the aim of boosting future public and private investment across the whole labour market and skills chain. These include the Erasmus programme, InvestEU, the DigitalEurope programme, the European Social Fund Plus and the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund.

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