The inspiring conference “International Encounters on Vocational Training” about the future of work was organized by the VET Department of the Basque Country, together with EfVET member, TKNIKA in San Sebastian.

Ute Schmitt, EfVET secretary

All keynote speakers and conference participants agreed on one thing: Our industries’ and societies’ needs change more quickly than ever due to big data, the internet of knowledge, artificial intelligence and virtual/augmented reality etc. Our world is becoming more and more complex, everything is interconnected. In many cases a normal human reaction to change is fear, in particular the fear that robots will completely replace humans in the future, that there is no future of work. But, that does not have to be the case. On the contrary, statistics presented during the conference show that the opposite is true: Germany has the highest rate of robots per capita in Europe and is close to full employment. The important question is, how we face and handle changes or as Jens Liebe, Senior Programme Expert at UNESCO-UNEVOC said: “Change that is done to you is frightening …. Change that is done by you is exhilarating.”

As EfVET president Santiago García Gutiérrez, stated during the International Networks panel:

“Change in itself is not good or bad. The important question is why do we have to change and what will be the intention of this change. The main challenge with regard to VET and its adaptability to the speed of change are teachers and trainers. We need to attract the best teachers, train them well and additionally ensure continuing professional development. If there is a future for mankind, then there is a future for VET, because VET is about people. It is providing crucial services for people, helps people and makes the world more sustainable”.

Jorge Arévalo, Vice-Minister of of Vocational Education Training in the Basque Country pointed out, that only creative approaches put into action will enable us to shape the future in the way we want it to be. VET systems have to adapt to the new technology, but they also have the obligation to emphasize and strengthen uniquely human competences that cannot be replaced by machines and artificial intelligence, such as emotion and feelings, imagination and creativity, intuition and the capability to improvise. Original human skills are mainly connected to emotional competence. There can be artificial intelligence, but there can never be artificial emotion. Technology is there to support us, but we are the ones to create. Or as Steve Bainbridge from CEDEFOP phrased it: “VET has to train people to manage technology and improve things for people.” And Shyamal Majumdar, Head of the UNESCO-UNEVOC, who will also be a keynote speaker at our next conference in Como, emphasized: “If inclusion and solidarity are not taken into account the world might be broadening technically but shrinking from the human point of view. Mere technical development is not enough to survive in this changing world.”

How can this be achieved? According to Dana Bachmann, European Commission, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, we can only get our systems ready for the future, when they are based on the European Pillar of Social Rights, in particular including a right for lifelong learning and with a stronger focus on learning after IVET and leaving formal education. This requires innovative learner based approaches, starting with assessments of existing competences and modularized study programmes only focusing on the competences not yet acquired, enabling individual learning paths, as for instance provided in Finland. Additionally, IVET must prepare students to jump into insecure future labour markets. Hence, transversal skills need to be taken even more into account, even at the cost of technical skills as they will be quicker replaced and employees need to be able to adapt to the change. Or as Steve Bainbridge phrased it: We need to break the age bound systems of education and training as we have it now, be less rigid, better acknowledge informal and non-formal learning and offer proper guidance. – We know what has to be done. Now we need to find out, how to do it.

These challenges cannot be mastered in isolation. Collaboration within Europe and beyond European boarders is crucial. The Centres of Vocational Excellence – planned by the European Commission – with VET providers that are well linked to companies and research within regions, in Europe and beyond European boarders, providing innovation hubs that allow innovation initiated by VET will be of utmost importance in this context. VET teachers are open to collaborate and passionately share good practices…. We need to give them more opportunities to do so.

If you could not attend you can watch all the inspiring speeches thanks to TKNIKA Youtube channel.

Leif Haar, Hans Lehmann, Stefano Tirati, Alfredo Garmendia, Ute Schmitt, Santiago García, Panagiotis G. Anastassopoulos, Iker Orueta and Andreas Loizou.