EQUAL – practical solutions and policy messages 10
Putting the learner at the centre of lifelong learning 11
Supporting and involving employers, especially SMEs, in developing lifelong learning practices 16
Promoting sustainable outcomes through the validation of learning and skills 19
Summary of key messages 22
EQUAL source information 24
What are the European Commission and other organisations doing to support lifelong learning? 27
The European Social Fund (ESF) is one of the Structural Funds of the European Union (EU), created to reduce differences in prosperity and living standards across the EU Member States and regions. The Structural Funds therefore promote both economic and social cohesion. The specific role of the ESF is to promote full employment, improve work equality and productivity, and reduce social exclusion and regional employment disparities across the EU. The fund helps Member States to make Europe’s work force and enterprises better equipped to face new, global challenges, such as increasing international competition and an ageing population. Over the period 2007–2013, around €75 billion euro has been allocated to the EU Member States to achieve its goals. Each Member State has put in place one or more Operational Programmes which set out the specific national objectives and actions proposed.
Lifelong learning is a key issue at the heart of the EU’s policy agenda. As seen in the European Employment Strategy (EES), it plays a key role in the EU’s ambitions for long-term economic prosperity and social cohesion. The EES Guideline 23 sets out ways to expand and improve investment in human capital, with a target for 12.5% of all working-age adults to be engaged in lifelong learning by 2010.1 This guideline is also echoed in the ESF Regulation for 2007-2013, which calls on Member States to develop and implement Operational Programmes that promote lifelong learning.2
Against this policy background, national and regional governments can look for ideas and insights into how to implement lifelong learning measures and reach the above targets in the ESF EQUAL Community Initiative. Between 2002 and 2008 the initiative invested €3.274 billion in pilot projects across the EU, many of which focused on lifelong learning issues – with a particular focus on discriminated and disadvantaged groups in the labour market. Moreover, these projects share particular features that make them an ideal source of information and inspiration for the ESF, namely: partnership-working, innovation and transnational cooperation, all of which are mentioned explicitly in the ESF 2007-2013 Regulation.
What can you do with this Vademecum?
The purpose of this Vademecum is to identify and disseminate good practice from the EQUAL Community Initiative in relation to lifelong learning issues. It is particularly aimed at helping readers to build on the experience and take forward the lessons of EQUAL without having to ‘reinvent the wheel.’
The Vademecum formulates and presents clear and targeted policy and practice messages based on the experience of EQUAL and in relation to the implementation of lifelong learning within the ESF. It also draws together the experience from across the EU, facilitating the sharing of learning from one country to another. Finally, it includes information on other programmes, initiatives and actors at EU level, in order to facilitate synergies and avoid overlaps with other funding streams that support lifelong learning.
Who is this Vademecum for?
This Vademecum is aimed at:
National or regional authorities managing the ESF - it can assist them in preparing calls for proposals in terms of providing explicit guidance on how lifelong learning challenges can be tackled, what specific types of projects should be funded and who they should involve in order to be effective. It can also assist them when appraising and selecting proposals. In other words, it can be used to determine whether the applicants have addressed the key aspects of lifelong learning and have built on existing learning, innovation and good practice, as demonstrated by the EQUAL (and other) programmes.
Organisations interested in putting forward and implementing ESF actions - It can help to inspire and inform them when preparing their applications for ESF funding. The background information on what has been done under EQUAL and the good practice examples can especially feed into the elaboration of the approaches and methods detailed in the application form.
What is EQUAL?
The EQUAL Community Initiative was financed by the ESF and co-funded by the EU Member States within the 2000-2006 programming period. The initiative focused on supporting innovative, transnational projects aimed at tackling discrimination and disadvantage in the labour market. These projects were created to generate and test new ideas with the aim of finding new ways of tackling discrimination and inequality within and beyond the labour market. The principles underpinning EQUAL projects were:
Partnership-working – involving different actors (private, public and non-governmental organisations) to find integrated solutions to common labour market challenges. An EQUAL project was known as an EQUAL Development Partnership, DP for short.
Innovation – developing, testing and learning from new ideas and approaches.
Empowerment – prioritising the ‘bottom-up’ approach by involving and engaging the beneficiaries and partners (government, employers and trade union representatives) in the DP activities from the very outset.
Transnational cooperation – establishing a transnational partnership with at least one other EQUAL DP in another Member State, with the view to finding solutions that adding value across national boundaries.
Mainstreaming at the local, regional, national and international levels – making sure that the activities and ideas have an impact beyond the lifetime of EQUAL and help to inform the development and improvement of labour market policy.
In many ways, EQUAL was a unique funding stream within the ESF 2000-2006: it provided a ‘test bed’ to explore and test out new ways of addressing the employment difficulties faced by vulnerable groups, using partnership-based approaches involving enterprises, public authorities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and social partners, amongst others. What emerged from these activities over the years was a wide range of lessons, insights and good practices, which have since been disseminated to practitioners and policy-makers working in the employment and social fields – at regional, national and European levels.
EQUAL was structured according to thematic fields defined within the four pillars of the EES: Employability, Entrepreneurship, Adaptability and Equal opportunities. In addition to these pillars, the programme supported a further theme of activities to help the integration of asylum seekers.
A significant number of the EQUAL DPs focused on the subject of Adaptability, in other words, addressing the challenges faced by enterprises and workers in adapting to change – change that is driven by modern-day trends such as globalisation, demographic ageing and technological innovation. More specifically, across the two application rounds, EQUAL co-financed 824 Adaptability-related projects, across 21 Member States, amounting to €736 million.
The Adaptability pillar was broadly split into two thematic priorities: Theme E, addressing Lifelong Learning, workplace flexibility and the development of inclusive work practices, and Theme F, involving support to firms and employees in adapting to structural change, for example, in relation to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and new forms of work organisation.
The lifelong learning theme encompassed 503 DPs, 470 of these were located in the EU-15 and 33 in the EU-12. The highest number of DPs related to lifelong learning operated in Italy (204), France (69), Netherlands (45) and Great Britain (27). In terms of the EU-12, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovenia were the highest represented with 16, 12 and five DPs respectively. Funded projects supported the access, progression and retention of various groups, including older people, people with disabilities, minority ethnic groups and women in employment, as well as innovations related to the provision and access to lifelong learning.
For each EQUAL pillar, a European Thematic Group (ETG) was established to enhance learning between actors at the operational level and to encourage the dissemination and mainstreaming of good practice across the EU. A European Thematic Group was also established for the Adaptability pillar, known as ETG3.
The work of the ETG3 was underpinned by the following two priorities selected on the basis of an analysis of EQUAL DPs and Transnational Partnerships, EU policy connections and national priorities:
Working at the interface of lifelong learning (between supply and demand) and developing inclusive policies and practices.
Challenging discrimination throughout working life and focusing on age management policies.
Two transversal issues underpinning the two above priorities were the:
Promotion of ICT literacy and access to ICTs.
Development and accreditation of qualifications, including the accreditation of prior and experiential learning.
Examples of EU-level dissemination activities undertaken in relation to the lifelong learning theme included:
The organisation of an event to disseminate the main policy and practice messages from the EQUAL DPs and National Thematic Networks3 entitled “Anticipating Change: effective approaches to lifelong learning and age management”, which took place on 6-7 December 2007 in Athens, Greece. This conference was highly praised by its participants as an excellent opportunity to share and learn from the good practices produced by EQUAL initiatives within the Adaptability sub-themes of age management and lifelong learning. The conference aims, sub-themes and results are described on the EQUAL website.
Preparation of the paper “EQUAL: paving the way for lifelong learning and age management”, offering practical solutions and policy messages for the above conference.
Preparation of case studies and success stories on more than 70 DPs, Transnational Partnerships, and EQUAL National Thematic Networks, including those focusing on lifelong learning.
EQUAL Newsletter on lifelong learning.
Success stories of National Thematic Networks focusing on lifelong learning.
Thematic analysis of Equal Adaptability for the second Round of EQUAL.
Contributions to other events, such as the Conference ‘Guidance for Workforce Development’ organised by CEDEFOP on 2-3 June 2003 in Thessaloniki, Greece. For this conference, the ETG3 prepared an overview document presenting the relevant EQUAL experience with regard to lifelong learning as a means to the timely and effective management of change (or restructuring) and a conference report.
The preparation of a Policy Briefs on:
Bridging the digital divide - EQUAL adapts workforce to the knowledge society
Making the most of Human Resources - EQUAL encourages SME employers to invest in human capital
These and many other documents prepared by GHK Consulting Ltd4 (the contracted thematic experts for the Adaptability pillar of the EQUAL programme) on the theme on lifelong learning can be accessed on the Adaptability section of the EQUAL website.