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Project sponsored with funds of the European Union, Programme LEONARDO DA VINCI

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Vocational training in the European Union

With the Lisbon Strategy of 2000 the European Union intends to become the world's most competitive and dynamic economic sphere by 2010. Innovation as engine of economic growth, the knowledge society and social cohesion as well as environmental protection have been identified as main fields for renewal and sustainability. Education has been identified as key instrument for achieving these aims. The current EU-strategy "Europe 2020" also lists as one of its three priorities the "development of a knowledge- and innovation-based economy".

Although every EU-country decides alone on its educational policy efforts have been increased since Lisbon to create common framework conditions for improving transparency and comparability of the educational systems and with them also of the acquired qualifications and competences. The purpose of this is to enhance the mobility of learners and workers within Europe.

The "work programme concerning general education and vocational training 2010" of 2002 provided the basis for new forms of political cooperation and further development of general education and vocational training within the European Union.

An essential precondition for cooperation concerning vocational training is the Copenhagen Declaration of 2002 that has been adopted by ministries for education of 31 European countries, the social partners and the European Commission. They defined the following central targets: strengthening of the European dimension of vocational training, improved transparency of the national educational systems and existing vocational training certificates, development of common instruments of quality assurance and principles for recognising informally and non-formally acquired qualifications.

A coordination body and three subject-oriented working groups (for transparency, quality assurance and credit point system) were created for achieving these aims. In follow-up conferences (Maastricht 2004, Helsinki 2006, Bordeaux 2008) the results were presented and the next steps were agreed.

Lifelong learning means for instance that the significance of non-formally and informally acquired qualifications and competences grows while the assessment of initial and further vocational training focuses ever more on learning outcomes and less on the question of by what formal way the qualification was acquired. For that reason common European principles for identifying and validating non-formally and informally acquired learning outcomes have been developed. Their translation into practicable procedures has not yet been completed.

In May 2009 the European Council in its conclusions regarding the "strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020)" approved the continuation of the cooperation with the following strategic targets until 2020: implementation of lifelong learning and mobility, improvement of the quality and efficiency of education and training, promotion of equity, social cohesion and active citizenship and enhancing innovation and creativity.

Several instruments resulted from the manifold activities in the field of vocational training; some of them have already been implemented, others are being implemented or tested currently. These include:


The europass has been developed as an instrument that is supposed to make it easier for the people to document and present the experience and competences they acquired abroad. It provides an overall image of the qualifications, unifies the various national forms of presentation and thus facilitates comparability within the European context. Applications to jobs abroad are to be facilitated with this. There are five documents altogether: the europass CV, the europass language pass (documentation of the knowledge of languages), the europass mobility (documentation of learning and work experience within Europe), the europass Diploma Supplement (explanations of the certificate of higher education) and the europass Certificate Supplement (explanations of the vocational training certificate).


The ECVET (European Credit System of Vocational Education and Training) is based on the orientation towards learning outcome. In future it will no longer be important for how long and where somebody has done a training but what knowledge, skills and competences he or she has acquired. These are called learning outcomes. Within ECVET the learning outcomes are sorted into learning units and assessed with credit points.

Initially the necessary structures will be established and individual elements will be tested in practice during a pilot phase. The activities will first focus on formal learning. As from 2012 the system will gradually be applied for the vocational qualifications. In 2014 the experience gained to that date will be evaluated so that improvements that may turn out to be necessary can be made.


The European Qualifications Framework (EQF) is a common European reference framework to make it easier to compare qualifications that were acquired in the various countries. Like the other instruments its purpose is to enhance mobility of the citizens and support their lifelong learning.

The EQF consists of eight reference levels (8 as highest level) that comprise all qualification levels of general education and initial and further vocational training (including the academic levels). They describe three categories of learning outcomes: knowledge, skills and competences.

Currently most EU-countries are in the process of implementing the systems on their national levels. The German qualification framework has two main categories that are themselves subdivided: professional competence into knowledge and skills and personal competence into social and self-competence.


The initiative "New Competences for New Employment" has been launched by the EU-Commission in December 2008 for enhancing the link between the educational systems and the world of work. One consequence is the creation of the web-portal ESCO (European Skills, Competences and Occupations taxonomy ) for relating competences and qualifications of job seekers with the existing job offers for facilitating the finding of jobs in Europe.

Its purpose is to contribute to improving the services provided by EURES (European Employment Services, founded in 1993).


In 2009 the European Council and the Parliament adopted the recommendation for establishing EQARF (European Quality Assurance Reference Framework for Vocational Education and Training). The purpose of this system is to use ten so-called reference indicators for measuring and reflecting the progress in quality assurance of the national educational system and providers of education.