Looking forward to the EU’s much needed ‘Year of Skills’

We were all positively surprised when the Commission President Ursula von Der Leyen took the floor for her State of the Union speech back in September and announced that 2023 would be the EU Year of Skills. EuropeOn has been calling for more emphasis on skills especially in view of securing a smooth energy transition since 2019, when we launched the #Skills4Climate campaign just after the announcement of the EU Green Deal.

In recent years, skills and workforce shortages have become a widely recognised enabler (or barrier depending on the perspective) for the achievement of Green Deal objectives and overall climate targets.

It could be that enough high level industry CEOs have started sounding the alarm bells as they see how difficult it is to recruit in certain sectors, and how, for instance, many of the clean energy solutions that are urgently promoted as a result of the Russian invasion require an amount of skilled personnel that in some cases is just lacking.

With an ageing workforce and a certain level of disregard for technical education and careers, stakeholders in the energy sector have certainly started to realise the importance of acting as soon as possible to avoid worsening skills and workforce shortages that are already felt in some areas. Indeed, if we are to avoid bottlenecks in the deployment of clean energy solutions in what is a defining decade for the EU’s energy transition and climate-neutrality goal, we absolutely must act now to make sure we have enough professionals on the ground in the years to come.

This means addressing the perception that technical careers and education are second-rate choices after academic paths. This is a myth that has taken root in the previous decades and led parents and students to choose university education at all costs, while technical jobs (such as an electrician maybe?) can come with better wages, offer the fulfilment of acting on climate change, and ensure almost 100% employability!

Of course, just debunking myths is not enough. We need more public support to fund proper vocational training centres with well-training teachers and ensure dual education or apprenticeships have their place in educational systems (which also calls for funding).

And funding used on technical education is certainly not going to waste. While speaking of skills and workforce shortages can be a daunting perspective, this could just as well be spun as a massive job-creation opportunity! The Green Deal was in fact announced as the EU’s new growth strategy, and it absolutely can be, provided our economic actors are accompanied along this transition. EuropeOn made some estimates (based on previous, lower targets) showing that 383.000 jobs can be created in our sector between now and 2030 only looking at solar PV, battery storage and EV charging!

It should be noted that education and training are usually national competences with strong local variations. The EU is not really equipped to enact reform in education policy but can still show the path for EU Member States and create the needed momentum by putting skills and workforce shortages at the top of their agendas, especially as many EU initiatives stemming from the Green Deal are contingent on securing the sufficient(ly skilled) workforce in the years to come. After all, the Commission had already set an indicative target of having 60% of EU workers engaging in lifelong training by 2030.

We sincerely hope this EU Year of Skills will come with the necessary emphasis on technical and green skills. More concretely, EuropeOn has been calling for two specific actions:

  1. launching a Union-wide awareness campaign on “the doers of REPowerEU” that could inspire bespoke national campaigns,
  2. gathering Member States, social partners, education institutions, academia and all relevant stakeholders in a Skills Summit focused on technical careers in the Green Deal and REPowerEU.

For more information, have a look at the reply we sent to the Commission consultation on the Year of Skills.

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