The New Skills Agenda starts at the library

Friday, June 10, 2016 - 15:45

Today the European Commission adopted its New Skills Agenda for Europe.  Jyrki Katainen, Vice President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, and Marianne Thyssen, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, presented the package, which aims to “ensure that people develop a broad set of skills from early on in life and to make the most of Europe’s human capital, which will ultimately boost employability, competitiveness and growth in Europe”.

Both the Vice President and the Commissioner underlined that 70 million Europeans lacked sufficient reading and writing skills, and then even more had inadequate numerical and digital skills.  The New Skills Agenda will seek to tackle this “basic skills challenge” and to prevent those without relevant skills from falling into the common traps of unemployment, poverty or social exclusion.  Lifelong learning and training in non-formal and informal settings will also be “at the heart” of this work.

Of the ten actions that the Commission is launching as part of the New Skills Agenda, the most relevant in terms of basic skills development is the “Skills Guarantee”.  This initiative aims to “help low-skilled adults acquire a minimum level of literacy, numeracy and digital skills and progress towards an upper secondary qualification”, through a process of individual skills assessment, creation of a tailored learning offer, and then an opportunity to recognise and validate the skills developed.  The Proposal for a Council Recommendation on establishing a Skills Guarantee, also launched today, advocates “supporting the setting up of public-private partnerships involving, e.g. social partners, education and training providers, employers, intermediary and sectorial organisations, local and regional economic actors, employment, social and community services, libraries, civil society organisations for the implementation of the Recommendation.”

Other actions include a “Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition” to boost the public’s competencies online and meet the objective of a European Digital Single Market, and a “Skills Profile Tool for Third Country Nationals" which will be rolled out to help refugees and other migrants integrate into new communities.

It is clear that the EU’s 65,000 public libraries have a role to play in supporting the Commission’s New Skills Agenda – from improving basic skills through partnerships as part of the Skills Guarantee to helping to integrate refugees and migrants and offering access to computers and digital training programmes to improve digital skills.  In order to reach the widest group of people possible, it is important to empower non-formal learning institutions – and we are delighted to see that the New Skills Agenda does just that. The vital role of public libraries as free-to-access community hubs comes into particular focus regarding the inclusion of hard-to-reach and vulnerable groups in policies to promote education and skills.

It is great to see the European Commission recognise the fantastic work being done to improve skills at public libraries across Europe. If you are interested in learning more about the role of libraries in digital skills development in particular, visit us during EU Code Week (18-20 October) at the European Parliament, where Public Libraries 2020 will host an interactive exhibition on how Europe’s public libraries are meeting the digital age.