Last 4 and 5 March 2021, with the organisation of the High Level Forum on Individual Learning Accounts (ILAs,) the European Commission took an important step forward in its implementation of Action 9 of the European Skill Agenda by exploring at an international level the idea of the Individual Learning Accounts (ILAs) as a tool to closing existing gaps in the access to training. The conference is part of a broader stakeholder consultation strategy, including a public consultation that will remain open throughout the spring, from March to June 2021.
The Forum has represented a great opportunity to look at ILAs and related schemes from different perspectives, focusing on lessons learnt which were identified and compared in comparative research on past and current schemes in the EU and overseas. The opening speech by Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, has addressed the ILAs as a new momentum for upskilling and reskilling adult learners, thus promoting equal access to education and training as a core priority of “our European social fabric”.
In fact, if the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights already made it clear that everyone has the right to education and to have access to vocational and continuing training, then with the recent publication of the European Pillar of Social Rights, the right to education does not only inspire the first principle on “Education, training and life-long learning”, but it also addresses the fourth and the fifth principles respectively by providing for the right to training and requalification as active support to employment and the right to training regardless of the type or duration of the employment.
Commissioner Schmit highlighted how, despite these principles being addressed across the board, there are still challenges. Currently less than 40% of EU adult citizens participate in training each year, compared to 50% in the USA and Canada. The area of digital skills paints an even more concerning picture, with just 1 in 2 European citizens having basic digital skills.
With a clear vision of the 2030 targets on skills, the Action Plan for the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights sets measures and progress indicators so as to increase the percentage of adults who participate in learning every year to 60% and even to 80% for those who have basic digital skills. It is the time for adult education to reach the stage where it can begin to be compared to the other levels of education. Indeed, if one considers the speed of change in today’s world, the issue of reskilling people in the labour market does not pertain just to the here and now. It is something that must be projected to the future with strategic plans for continuous learning that combine educational and labour market policies. In order to ensure a real and sustainable green and digital transition, public and private investments must put people at the centre of these strategies.
The speech by Commissioner Schmit continued with forward-looking questions such as: who will support the training of a growing proportion of non-standard employees who have, at best, a temporary contract with an employer? And who will support those who need the training to prepare for a professional transition to a new employer? These challenges cannot be left to the employee and employer. They must be tackled collectively.
The European Skill Agenda, presented last July 2020, proposes 12 actions to provide comprehensive support to member states for adults to make lifelong learning a reality. Learning from best practices on the successful implementation of ILAs is one of these actions and was the main focus of the High Level Forum organised by the Commission last 4-5 March.
On the first day of the Forum, the discussion continued with a presentation from Élisabeth Borne, Minister of Labour, Employment and Economic Inclusion of France, on “what individual learning accounts mean in the French context”. In fact, although France recognised the right of the individual to training in 2014, it was little more than a theoretical right. The creation of the individual learning accounts, known in France by the acronym (CPF), in 2015 and then their adaptation in 2019 as part of a vast training reform, has made this right effective. Today, in France, every worker has an individual training account where they can consult their individual “rights” and what services are available to them. These “rights” take the form of 500 euros per year and up to a limit of 5000 euros for a person working fulltime. The tool is financed by annual financial contributions from companies but the funds are only mobilised when training is delivered. With this credit, workers can purchase training courses from those listed in the catalogue. “My training account” functions as a marketplace, which links the supply and demand of training. The platform is used by 20,000 organisations who together offer over 300,000 different trainings courses. Anyone can book onto a training in just a few simple clicks.
Various speakers have followed with presentations on different thematic accounts based on pieces of research on Individual Learning Accounts (ILAs) and Individual Learning Schemes. These focus on the experiences of International Organisations with concrete policies to translate this right into reality. They include:
- The Human Right Perspective and the link between ILAs and SDGs presented by Borhene Chakroun, Director for Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems at UNESCO, who spoke about “Lifelong Learning Entitlements”, where entitlement is defined as: “a guarantee of access to benefits based on established rights or by registration”.
- The Individual Learning Systems by Stefano Scarpetta, Director for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs at OECD. He identifies three different systems of ILAs:
1) Individual Saving Accounts for Training (ISAT) (used mostly in Sweden, Canada and USA) in which the individual can accumulate resources for further training;
2) Individual Learning Accounts (ILA) such as those in France and Singapore, in which the right to training accumulates over a certain period of time and training resources are only mobilised when the training is actually undertaken;
3) Voucher schemes that support training through direct government payments to individuals.
Many other examples and contributions (now available on the event website) have been brought to the attention of the international community of practitioners who attended the conference and who are now invited to stay tuned on Facebook and Twitter Social Europe accounts, where insights from the event and future opportunities to join the discussion will be regularly shared.