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European Opportunities for the Work of Tomorrow

October 23, 2020

The world of work is being transformed by digital and ecological structural change. How can the workers of today do the work of tomorrow? How do we improve access to continuing education and training? The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs held a discussion on these and other questions with guests from Europe on 20 October 2020. The online panel was one in a series of virtual conferences on the topic of "New Work – Human-centric Work".

A technician in front of a screen showing the panel.

Digital technologies, ecological change and the COVID-19 pandemic are transforming the labour market. As a result, the demands placed on every individual are changing. On 20 October 2020, State Secretary Björn Böhning and Joost Korte, Director-General of the European Commission's Directorate-General responsible for employment, held a discussion with fellow policy-makers from different EU member states and round about 300 viewers from all over Europe. The question was how workers can successfully take control of their careers in a world of work that is undergoing transformation. 

Federal Minister Hubertus Heil welcomed the participants to the conference. The Federal Minister made the following statement:

The decisive question for all of us in Europe is how we can make sure that today’s workers can do tomorrow’s work. The best answer to that question is: continuing education and training.

He added that the pandemic was making it even clearer that this was necessary, and that particular attention must now be paid to ensure that existing inequalities were not exacerbated. The Federal Minister said the following was clear: 

We need new approaches to this problem, and I am sure that we can learn from each other by looking beyond our national borders. The need ... [for individuals to pursue continuing education and training] will continue to grow in the future. And Europe’s citizens rightly expect policy-makers to set the right course, working together with the social partners.

The participants in the discussion were:

  • Björn Böhning, State Secretary, Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Germany
  • Caroline Cohen, Advisor on vocational education and training to Elisabeth Borne, Minister of Labour,
  • Employment and Integration, France
  • Joost Korte, Director-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion of the European Union
  • Mateja Ribič, State Secretary at the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Slovenia
  • Roland Sauer, Director General of the Labour Market Division at the Federal Ministry of Labour, Family and Youth, Austria
  • Daniël Waagmeester, Director Industrial Relations, Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, the Netherlands

The focus of the discussion was on three big questions:

  1. For one thing, employees need information about which skills are in demand so they can further their professional development. Here, sector-specific and AI-supported analyses also offer completely new opportunities and possibilities to show which direction the labour market is going. This will reduce some of the uncertainties as to exactly which skills will be in demand in the future.
  2. Another challenge is the access to continuing education and training opportunities. Anyone who wants to participate in continuing education and training should be able to find a fitting programme easily. Transparency as to what is available plays a decisive role.
  3. If people want to participate in continuing education and training programmes, they have to have not only time to learn, but also the financial means. This applies to both the costs of training and adequate wage replacement.

State Secretary Björn Böhning added:

Establishing continuing education and training programmes that reach those people whose labour-market opportunities have not been good is a great challenge for European labour market policy.

Looking beyond national borders: What we can learn from each other

The good news is that most EU member states have already taken steps to address these challenges. The focus is on individualized support. Examples are programmes that allow employees to take time off work to participate in continuing education and training for their work (Austria); the provision of a budget for continuing education and training (the Netherlands); and an app for skills (France). Next year, the European Commission will also launch an EU-wide initiative on individual learning accounts.