Social Partners and Vocational Education and Training : Backgroud Document EN
SOCIAL PARTNERS AND VETThe modernisation of vocational education and training is high on agendas all over the world. The keyissue in the policy debate is the shift from a supply-driven to a demand-driven provision of VET. Theworld of work needs to be involved in the reform processes to ensure that VET meets the immediateand long-term needs of labour market.The world of work is represented by the social partners who are trade unions representing workersand employers and their organisations. The social partners represent both sides of the labour market.They exist to promote and protect the interests of their members.Their main activity is social dialogue, in which the public authorities usually participate too. Socialdialogue encompasses all kinds of negotiation, consultation and exchange of information between thepartners including employers, trade unions and public authorities. Vocational education and training orlifelong learning is also covered by the social dialogue as it promotes skill development processesbeneficial to both workers and enterprises. Social dialogue and social partnership are tools to channelmessages from the labour market to the VET reform agenda.The main argument for involving social partners in VET policies and practice is that it supportseffective, relevant and demand-driven VET. As representatives of the labour market they are the mainbeneficiaries or customers of VET. Stakeholder participation promotes ownership and democracy atdifferent levels of the VET system if stakeholders are given real power. Social partners can be adriving force in the promotion of lifelong learning.Involvement of social partners in VET depends on the structures of cooperation and the legalframeworks that support these. Social partners can play a role if there is room for their contribution.Therefore, VET councils, sector skill councils and certification bodies are needed. These can beeffective cooperation platforms if they have the required mandate and means. These structures needto be recognised through appropriate legislation that gives them authority. They need resources (e.g.a secretariat) to successfully perform their tasks. Training of employees can be covered in collectiveagreements and social partners can contribute to the funding of training through levies on payroll. Thisgives them ownership of training.Governments need to show the will to work with social partners by incorporating the mandates of VETor sector council into legislation. Policy documents can support the involvement of employers andtrade unions in the preparation of strategies, educational standards and qualifications. This wouldtransform their role from one of reactive consultation to one of active participation in policymaking.Social partners can be awarded with practical tasks in the provision of (work-based) training and in thecertification of competencies but this should always happen in accordance with and based ondialogue or negotiations with the organisations involved.Social partnership and social dialogue depend on the skills and the resources of their participants.These need awareness of the importance of skills and competences for VET and lifelong learning.They require a profound understanding of VET and its links to the labour market. The overall capacityof social partner organisations depends on the interests and capacity of their elected people and thestaff. An effective organisation has dedicated people to follow the VET dossier, but it also needs awider network of affiliates or partners with whom it can develop its thoughts and ideas.The role of social partners in VET can be evaluated on the basis of their involvement in policymaking,development and governance of VET. Do social parents participate in prioritising and developing newinitiatives at the policymaking level? Are they really contributing to policymaking or is their role inpractice limited to formal participation? Such an evaluation should also take into consideration lessformal ways of influencing. But also the contribution of social partners to the development of curriculaand methods of training is a measure of their roles.
Most of the national employer organisations and trade unions are based on sectoral and regionalaffiliation. When involving labour market representatives in different activities, the authorities need tocarefully identify which organisational level is the most representative and competent to take part.National level confederations can have policymaking competences, but sector federations areprobably more suitable for the development of occupational standards. Organisations do notnecessarily need to be big to be functional but in general they should represent a wider interest thanan individual actor or enterprise.Representation of small- and medium-sized enterprises, the informal economy and migrant workers isan issue. SME’s are seldom members of employer or business associations. An active chamber ofcommerce can cover smaller enterprises, but it will usually not represent companies from the informalsector. Trade unions very rarely cover all sectors of the economy. In some ETF partners countriesthey concentrate on the public sector or state enterprises. Teachers are often a well-unionisedprofession but employees of SMEs and the informal sector are typically not unionised. Neither aremigrant workers. The state is often an important employer but the interest of the government as anemployer is not always the same as the interest of government as a training provider or VETpolicymaker.ETF supporting partner countries to develop vocational education and training systems responsive tothe requirements of the labour market and enhancing the employability of individuals ensures socialpartners’ participation in its different activities.The main task of the ETF is to make social partners aware of the importance of VET and humanresources for the labour market and to expose them to good practice of social partner involvement inVET. This is the basis of capacity development that is needed to enforce their role in national orsectoral VET activities and debates.ContactsMr Petri LempinenSpecialist on VET and Social PartnershipTel. 0039 011 630 2221Email. PTL@etf.europa.eu2