The main aim of the informal meeting of education ministers on Monday 23 March in Prague was the partnership between training institutions and employers, with a backdrop that included creativity and innovation. In the context of the current financial crisis, negative demographic evolutionary trends, globalisation, technological development and environmental challenges, ministers or their delegates representing 34 European countries, tackled the strategic theme of active cooperation.
During the morning, ministers firstly explored the practical implementation measures, in the perspective of reform of the European education systems, in view of meeting challenges and training the younger generations appropriately so that it becomes more flexible and more creative on a labour market undergoing complete transformation. A long term strategy is indispensable, together with quality higher education and training systems, not only in terms of guaranteeing economic prosperity and competitiveness but also social cohesion. The Czech presidency notes that education policy must be closely connected to other policies and remain closely linked to the “triangle of knowledge” being developed with research and development and innovation.
Afternoon discussions focused on the dialogue between teaching institutes and the world of work and featured a speech by Leif Johanson, the CEO of the Volvo Group, who explained to ministers that, “the profiles most sought after by private companies today go beyond technical competency for each post and seek candidates that possess an ability to adapt, analyse and communicate (particularly for foreign languages: Ed)". Mr Johanson then highlighted the fact that this clearly involved values that should be acquired during time spent in higher education. Ondrej Liska, the Czech minister for education, youth and sport affirmed that, “there are many quality training centres created by private companies in the Czech Republic and Europe but neither the private nor public sector along can create appropriate schools for training European workers in the 21st century…which explains the absolute necessity of moving forward hand in hand to respond to the current economic crisis, which is not a kind of flu that can be cured in three days. It risks producing a high increase in unemployment”.
Jan Figel, the European Commissioner for education, training, culture and youth submitted the first results from a study he launched in November on labour market trends up to 2020 and explained that, “although there are 72 million jobs in the Union today (or a third of the working population) that are unskilled, these jobs will decline by 12 million by 2020, while a third of these jobs will become highly skilled”.
This dialogue between the teaching and business communities must be deepened, not only to respond to the Lisbon objectives but also to overcome the current crisis. Member states unanimously recognise that to achieve this end, teaching system must adapt their courses and develop greater creativity of pupils for employers, as well as continuous training, specific and original qualities. Jan Figel again underlined the notion of lifelong learning, including initial and continuous training. A process the European Commission is actively supporting through different initiatives such as the communication of December 2008, "New Skills for New Jobs" and university-business forums. As part of deeper collaboration between the teaching and working worlds, is a reassessment of the teaching profession, mobility of experts and students between teaching institutes and the labour market, expanding funding towards other sources, more systematic recognition of skills acquired. A conference will take place in Prague on these specific aspects for 6-7 April 2009, which will be the subject of conclusions to be submitted for adoption by ministers during the Education Council on 11-12 May.