Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank the Commission for having organised this VET skills week. Not only because it is always a pleasure to find a good excuse to stay in Brussels on a Friday, but because I am certain that the organisation of this special event triggered this week’s decision of the College to do more for European apprentices. Indeed, the Commission presented yesterday to the Council, a very concrete set of proposals to launch a new "ErasmusPro", as well as a Quality framework for Apprenticeships at all levels. I am particularly happy because this new Commission initiative mirrors a pilot project that I and fourteen other colleagues in the European Parliament have launched in 2015. This is this project that I will speak about today.
But first, I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the efforts made by the Commission, namely by his President Jean-Claude Juncker, by Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis, by Commissioner Marianne Thyssen, as well as the many officials working in the DGs, all these committed civil servants who have made this project a reality.
Europe often appears far away from our fellow citizens' preoccupations. If one of its aspects is likely to be put to the test, it is youth unemployment, a scandalous scourge that darkens our future. In 2014, more than 5,3 million youngsters were unemployed, that is to say an average of one out of four people under 25, if we except students.
One out of two in some countries. Fortunately, this curse is not inevitable. In Germany, in Austria, in the Netherlands, countries where apprenticeship is strongly implemented, young people can much more easily enter the professional life. Of course, companies' competitiveness plays a decisive role on the global level, as well as in job opportunities offered to youngsters. However, it also clearly appears that Vocational and Education Training is the key to this success. This type of formation, in times of globalisation, is enriched by trans-border mobility. This is the occasion to rise up to the linguistic challenge of long-term immersion stays.
Universities and European Grandes Écoles understood the usefulness of students and teachers exchanges. Adopted in 1987, the Erasmus program is a genuine success. It receives a subsidy from the European budget, increasing by 2 billion € per year. Close to 300 000 students, beneficiaries of a financial help, have been able to validate a year of their formation outside of their country of origin. It is fair, and imperative, to give the same opportunities to young people having chosen vocational training. In accordance with this spirit, the Leonardo Mobility program, which became Erasmus+ a year ago, has been conceived. It is accessible to both apprentices and students from vocational secondary schools, but the latter are facing various barriers. In these conditions, they are, most of the time, staying outside of their countries only for a few weeks long. This path is full of obstacles, and every one choosing it, proving their determination and ingenuity, is regretting how much of a pain it is to walk by. So much energy, so little sensible use for it!
Nevertheless, the Union “establishes a Single Market” and insures free mobility for people, goods, services and capital. Alas, these heroic declarations are disproved by a concrete wall made of bureaucracy, ideologies, conservatism, feebleness and withdrawal. National regulations and legislations are stubbornly stuck on their respective particularities. Vocational training falls victim from this situation: labour and apprenticeship contract regulation, accident and social insurances, security measures dictated by the “precautionary principle”, recognition of prior learning, and equivalence of diplomas.
As apprenticeship is known as the “highway” to employment, it is urgent to bring all of these artificial barriers down, to allow the sharing of good practices, and to encourage youth mobility, without any discrimination between students, apprentices, and other interns in alternate training. That is the aim of our Pilot Project. A single European framework for apprenticeship will be the first contribution to create a convergence of European labour regulations. A precious lever to get to full employment, and a decisive step towards a European citizenship.
The overall goal of our Pilot Project is to facilitate apprentices mobility by testing various models in order to put in place the necessary mobility infrastructure (e.g. services including accommodation, language courses, practical information, coaching, insurance arrangements) and cooperation arrangements between concerned parties and examining ways and means of making VET a more attractive option for young people.
This project also aims to formally recognise and validate learning outcomes and to support the mutual recognition of diplomas as well as the progressive application of a "European Framework for the Mobility of Apprentices", vital condition to remove the barriers to mobility and symbol of what could lay the first stone for more integrated European apprenticeship schemes.
Tabled and voted in 2015 for the 2016 European Union budget, this Pilot Project has generated many interests on the field. Naturally, to confirm this dynamic, this experiment should be protracted in 2017 to provide greater access to those new apprentices and giving them the opportunity to live the experience of a long-term mobility. This extension would also strengthen the conclusions of the assessment, which is ongoing.
This translates into three operational objectives
i) In a first instance, the project will set out to test how to implement cost-efficient cross border mobility schemes for the apprentices between VET institutions, companies, and/or other relevant organisations. The action will foster capacity building among the actors concerned to put in place the necessary infrastructure to send and receive apprentices from one European country to another for a period ranging from six to 12 months and examine the different forms of support required.
ii) Meanwhile, this second Pilot Project will extend and strengthen the lessons drawn from the implementation of the first year one and ongoing studies. The lessons learned should formulate and validate the main characteristics of a "European Framework for the Mobility of Apprentices". More generally, it will identify and optimise the various public aid favouring the mobility of apprentices in Europe.
iii) Eventually, this Pilot Project should contribute to the development of the so-called “better regulation" and simplification. Likewise the Erasmus + simplified application forms, whose VET centres are mostly their candidates, the Pilot Project must consider these players immune to the usual cumbersome procedures because they can nip in the bud even the most promising intentions. The Commission is thus invited to show an a priori trust and pragmatism to make possible this experimentation. In the spirit of simplification, it would be appropriate to let the Vocational and Education Training centres selected during the first year of this experimentation benefit either of an extension of the original agreement or a simplified application form.
So, ladies and gentlemen, our pilot project is now up and running. The first round of apprentices are dispatched around Europe. Let’s hope that they will inspire many others and be the pioneers of the new “Erasmus Pro” programme launched by the Commission this week.