European Vocational Skills Week

8 December 2016

My reflections on the first 2 days

European Vocational Skills Week is a new venture. I’ve just come back from Brussels having attended the opening conference – Adult Skills Empowering People. The 2-day conference had a great buzzy feel, with representation from over 37 countries across Europe and nearly 300 delegates including NGOs; research institutes; providers; civil society; Commissioners; education ministers; government civil servants; great learners and a princess. All this against a backdrop of colourful festive lights and Brussels’ famous winter market!

I attended in Learning and Work Institute’s role as UK National Coordinator for the European Agenda for Adult Learning. We know that adult learning is an important means of both up-skilling and re-skilling, but equally, adult learning plays a vital role in supporting social inclusion, active citizenship and personal development. Adult learning has great benefits for individual people, their families and communities; society as a whole and of course is good for the economy. So, I was really pleased to be asked to lead a session on ‘how to convince the unconvinced’ of the value and importance of adult learning. I saw it as an opportunity to show, via our Festival of Learning learners stories, together with our work on the Citizens’ Curriculum, how [learner] stories and numbers can be used to make a compelling case for the value and impact of adult learning across a whole range of education and social policies agendas.

What was really good about the conference was that as well as the more formal sessions going on, there was a great deal of other interesting side debates taking place on social media using twitter #EUAdultSkills.

As part of the final plenary session, I was asked to share with the conference my reflections on the 2 days and I would like to share them here with you.

Good on both a policy and practice

On the policy front, what I have taken away is that as National Coordinators (and for L&W as a leading NGO) our challenge is to continue to demonstrate to government in difficult times, how adult learning impacts on a whole range of policy agendas such as health, work, housing, justice, families and civic engagement. This is why, in our UK role, where there is an increasing focus on outcomes based policy making, we are going to use the GRALE Report as the basis for our own UK report on the impact of adult learning on health and wellbeing, labour market and civic and community life.

From a practice point of view, what the 2 days re-enforced for me was the continued importance and need to involve learners in all stages of our work. In attending this conference I had missed our Youth Employment Convention where we had re-issued our pledge to learners, “nothing about us without us”. A pledge that I asked delegates in the plenary to adopt.

My final reflection was on the obvious value of cooperation and partnerships between a whole range of diverse and sometimes new stakeholders. The challenge is always that once the festive lights have been switched off and we are back in our busy working lives, how we sustain those levels of cooperation and partnerships which are so vital in ensuring we have both the reach and impact for adult learning.