EU steps up its ambitions for life-long learning – but age barriers remain


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The European Commission has recently proposed two new initiatives to help adults to access lifelong learning and employment across EU countries: on individual learning accounts and on micro-credentials. Although the proposal can help encourage a life-long learning culture, it still includes some ageist restrictions.

Increasing adult participation in education and training is part of the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan. The draft for a Council recommendation follows open public consultations on the topic, in which AGE participated. The initiative now needs to be discussed and adopted by the EU Council of ministers.

A learning account for each individual – ‘of working age’

The European Commission proposes that every individual receives a personal learning account, which accumulates training entitlements through different phases of employment. The proposal aims to meet the EU target of increasing participation in training to 60% per year for ‘all adults’ in 2030, a figure standing at 44% in 2016.

The initiative would establish one account for each individual of working age, which can receive credits for life-long learning based on the rules established by each Member State, such as by public entities, employers or employment services. The account should stay with an individual throughout his/her working life in one Member States, and s/he should be able to redeem the credits even when residing abroad, in the case of mobile workers. The carrying of an account across borders is however not foresee, and trans-border workers will have their account established in the Member State where they work.

Member States can by themselves define specific target groups – workers in specific sectors, low-educated workers or otherwise vulnerable groups – to support them with additional credits.

Enabling environment and improved services for guidance and training offers

The credits on the account should be redeemable for recognized education or training activities, skills assessment, validation of acquired skills and vocational guidance. However, vocational guidance should be provided for free to any beneficiary. An online public register should be established with all eligible training opportunities, and EU funds should help in setting up new training opportunities and the individual learning accounts system. The proposal talks about creating an enabling environment, containing also the right to paid educational leave from work, to be developed to encourage the take-up of life-long learning.

If the proposal passes the Council, Member States will have one year to establish and implementation plan and evaluate every year the effectiveness of the system.

AGE logo Despite positive advancement we regret some ageist restrictions and a lack of attention on disability and digital gaps

AGE welcomes this proposal, as it has the potential to encourage a life-long learning culture and make education and training better accessible to workers. The fact that they are individualized puts every beneficiary in the driving seat for life-long learning, which can enable job transitions or second education opportunities. In a life-span perspective, this entitlement is crucial to build sustainable labour markets.

AGE however regrets that ageist language is used in the proposal, notably because the learning account should be set up for every person ‘of working age’. First, this does not meet the ambition of the 2030 target to improve learning of ‘all adults’. Secondly, in light of demographic change, more and more workers stay in employment beyond working age, which should be considered a positive development as long as this is not driven solely by the need for income. Rather than granting the accounts to ‘every worker’, restricting learning accounts to a particular age group excludes a group which could particularly benefit from such a measure.

Furthermore, some ideas in the draft recommendation are formulated too strictly. For instance, guidance to redeem credits should be granted free of charge ‘or by using individual entitlements’ from the account – it would not be worthwhile to spend the saved entitlements only on guidance, without accessing training. Also, while an online repository of all guidance and training offers is a powerful tool to encourage up-take, the recommendation should have explicitly mention guided and offline access to the repository, for instance provided by public employment services or public libraries, to avoid increasing digital gaps. Finally, contrary to the EU’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its own legislation relative to equal treatment in employment, it is only mentioned that training opportunities should ‘pay attention to accessibility’, rather than making them accessible or provide reasonable accommodation.

AGE however does welcome that the ‘enabling environment’ for accessing benefits in the individual learning account contain the recommendation for paid educational leave, a precondition for many workers to be able to take time off to engage in life-long learning.

EU learning credentials will recognize individual lifelong learning pathways

At the same time as the initiative on individual learning accounts, the Commission published a proposal for a second Council recommendation establishing European Digital Credentials for Learning. The ‘credentials’ created will describe and certify acquired skills and competences, including formal qualifications (professional certificates, diplomas and training), as well as non-formal learning activities (including volunteering or short employer-provided training sessions) and store them on a secure digital platform, namely Europass.

Such credentials will help employers and training providers quickly confirm if someone’s diplomas and certificates are genuine and accurate. And they will allow individuals to valorize their lifelong formal and non-formal learning achievements and send their application in a secure digital way.

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