2.9.2011   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 259/34


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘The Agenda for new skills and jobs’

2011/C 259/07

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

strongly encourages all Member States to set quantitative national targets for all of the Europe 2020 headline targets, in particular those directly related to the New Skills and Jobs Agenda, in order to give greater ownership of the National Reform Programmes, demonstrate political ambition for the policies being pursued and to allow for a transparent assessment of policy effectiveness;

advocates an approach to skills and jobs that: (a) empowers local/regional partners to design interventions and direct resources to meet local/regional employer needs and focus on identified target groups in the labour force; and (b) establishes a framework for joining up services at the point of delivery and devising tailored solutions to tackle specific local/regional problems;

recalls Article 174 (TFEU) on Territorial Cohesion and underlines the need to take regional differentiation fully into account, as significant disparities exist across the European Union and the challenges that regions face in meeting the Europe 2020 targets vary considerably. These challenging circumstances have been clearly set out in the Fifth Report on Economic, Social and Territorial Cohesion (please see point 6 on pages 3-4);

calls for greater consideration to be given to the timing of the phasing out of the current crisis-related labour market measures and the implications of this on market confidence, the public finances, individual employment prospects of vulnerable workers and overall levels of long term unemployment; considers that the early success or otherwise of the Agenda for New Skills and Jobs will depend on the effectiveness and lasting impact of the crisis measures in assisting the labour market through the economic crisis. Nonetheless, the basic principle must be for the crisis measures to be phased out quickly.

Rapporteur

Henk KOOL (NL/PES), Alderman: member of the executive council of the city of Den Haag

Reference document

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on An Agenda for new skills and jobs: A European contribution towards full employment

COM(2010) 682 final

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

1.

welcomes ‘An Agenda for New Skills and Jobs’ as one of the seven flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth; recognises that it is complemented by other flagship initiatives and underlines that the Agenda will only be achieved by adopting a coherent, multi-level and integrated approach to implementation;

2.

strongly encourages all Member States to set quantitative national targets for all of the Europe 2020 headline targets, in particular those directly related to the New Skills and Jobs Agenda, in order to give greater ownership of the National Reform Programmes, demonstrate political ambition for the policies being pursued and to allow for a transparent assessment of policy effectiveness;

3.

welcomes that the Commission makes some reference to regional aspects in the flagship but considers that greater importance should be accorded to the distinct role that local and regional authorities play as employers, service providers, and regulators, in the promotion of growth and cohesion, and in coordinating strategic partnerships between educational institutions, enterprise agencies and enterprises in their respective regions;

4.

advocates an approach to skills and jobs that: (a) empowers local/regional partners to design interventions and direct resources to meet local/regional employer needs and focus on identified target groups in the labour force; and (b) establishes a framework for joining up services at the point of delivery and devising tailored solutions to tackle specific local/regional problems;

5.

furthermore, considers that there are a number of proposals for action set out in the flagship that would benefit from a stronger local/regional dimension and would urge the European Institutions and Member States to support action on: local skills strategies; a sub-national dimension to the EU Skills Panorama; local measures on the integration of those who encounter serious difficulties in obtaining jobs, such as migrants, for example, into the labour force; local action on early school leaving, adult literacy and numeracy and lifelong learning strategies; enabling conditions for job creation; local/regional level social dialogue on labour and employment policies; regional centres of excellence for tomorrow's jobs; and actions on the future supply of workers in key sectors, such as health;

6.

recalls Article 174 (TFEU) on Territorial Cohesion and underlines the need to take regional differentiation fully into account, as significant disparities exist across the European Union and the challenges that regions face in meeting the Europe 2020 targets vary considerably. These challenging circumstances have been clearly set out in the Fifth Report on Economic, Social and Territorial Cohesion (1), in particular:

(a)

less than one in every three regions has achieved the employment rate of 75 %, and nearly one in five regions has a rate below 65 %;

(b)

over 20 % of regions have 40 % or more of their population with a low level of educational attainment;

(c)

less than one in six regions has achieved the target rate for tertiary education;

(d)

rates of participation in lifelong learning vary considerably, with over 22 % of regions having a very low participation rate of 5 % or less;

(e)

the population is ageing rapidly and the age dependency ratio is becoming skewed;

7.

highlights the potential negative effects for some regions from policies that pursue EU wide aggregate improvements or national targets, with little or no reference to the territorial dimension, and urges the European Commission and Members States to consider the consequences of such an approach, particularly for those regions with serious structural weaknesses;

8.

notes the huge disparity in terms of participation levels in lifelong learning and training at regional level across the European Union and is concerned that, notwithstanding the myriad of targets related to this set over many years, there remains a large failure to ensure that the laggard Member States and regions catch up on the EU average;

9.

regrets that the presentation of the flagship initiative on the Agenda for New Skills and Jobs has not been accompanied by an assessment of the budgetary impact of the measures proposed;

10.

calls for greater consideration to be given to the timing of the phasing out of the current crisis-related labour market measures and the implications of this on market confidence, the public finances, individual employment prospects of vulnerable workers and overall levels of long term unemployment; considers that the early success or otherwise of the Agenda for New Skills and Jobs will depend on the effectiveness and lasting impact of the crisis measures in assisting the labour market through the economic crisis. Nonetheless, the basic principle must be for the crisis measures to be phased out quickly;

11.

requests that, at both the EU and Member State levels, mechanisms are established to coordinate efforts for achieving the objectives of the New Skills and Jobs Agenda and the other flagships, in particular, the ‘Youth on the Move’ and the ‘Platform Against Poverty’ flagships;

Towards a New Momentum for Flexicurity

12.

welcomes the recognition by the European Commission that within a loose labour market, in the context of high structural unemployment levels, labour supply measures alone are insufficient to tackle the unemployment problem and that these need to be complemented by actions with a focus on incentivising labour demand, but calls for greater balance to be accorded to these two sets of policy prescriptions;

13.

acknowledges that national flexicurity arrangements do need to be strengthened and adapted to the new social and economic context and welcomes the inclusion of the flexicurity guidelines in the work of the Council, and reminds the Commission that it should always involve the social partners when considering changes that may have an impact on the labour market. The Commission is asked to spell out in greater detail the implications for job security, existing employment rights, working time and modes of working organisation from the suggested changes to open ended contractual arrangements;

14.

recalls that the European Union has been the catalyst for progressive changes to national employment law systems through previous EU directives and highlights the importance of maintaining these standards; believes however that continued efforts and encouragement of structural change towards further social stability is necessary;

15.

supports the emphasis placed by the European Commission on the crucial role of SMEs in job creation and economic competitiveness and recalls the recommendations in its opinion on the Small Business Act (2), especially in terms of access to finance and implementing the ‘think small first’ principle;

16.

reminds of the uneven pace of progress and diverse interpretation of a number of existing EU employment directives in their transposition into Member State law, with the consequence that a single EU labour market does not exist and there is no level playing field, but also notes that the Commission's right to obtain feedback from the Member States regarding the incorporation of EU law into national law, ensures that national variations are kept within acceptable limits. To get some idea of how wide such variations can be, it is suggested that a comparative analyses be carried out of how some of the directives have been implemented in the Member States;

Equipping People with the Right Skills for Employment

17.

acknowledges the succinct assessment presented by the European Commission of the main challenges facing the labour market of the European Union; agrees that there exists a deficiency of appropriate skills for future labour market needs, insufficient supply and demand for training opportunities at particular skills levels and that there needs to be better matching and management of migrant workers' skills and experience;

18.

cautions, however, that the European Commission currently holds too narrow an interpretation of the skills problem and appears to underestimate the challenge in managing the changing sectoral composition of the economy and its implications for age gender, and people with disabilities, as well as, in certifying prior experience, in formalising the skills associated with growing elementary occupational sectors such as ancillary healthcare, in recognising the growing share of older workers and the associated issues of continually upskilling them, in managing an unemployment rate amongst third country nationals which is over twice the rate for nationals within individual Member States and in recognising the need for a specific set of policies to counter the growing number of youths in NEET - neither in education, employment or training;

19.

considers that greater emphasis should be placed by the European Commission on the need for greater localisation of service delivery and strategic planning in terms of labour market profiling, forecasting and industrial policy formation and greater personalisation in the design and planning of direct interventions with local employers, social partners and employment services, in areas of granting enterprise supports and proactive early identification mechanisms of the training needs of workers within firms under threat of closure;

20.

supports the concept of an EU Skills Panorama to improve transparency for jobseekers, workers, companies and/or public institutions, but believes that there is a necessity for a more localised form of this tool to complement the information compiled nationally, particularly in those Member States with very centralised administrated systems. It is at the sub-national level that the most accurate and timely information on regional labour markets can be sourced and where local and regional authorities can play a significant role in identifying skills mismatch providing appropriate re-training and vocational training programmes and incentivising investment in response to local demand;

21.

supports the development of stronger business-university linkages and in particular the integration of ‘credit bearing’ work placements in all university programmes in order to strengthen the technical, business and soft skills set of graduates and enhance their employability in the modern labour market;

22.

considers that digital literacy and competence should be a key component of future skills anticipation and mapping and that investment in ICT infrastructures must be accompanied by appropriate schemes to raise digital competences of the workforce, particularly the low-skilled, vulnerable groups and the unemployed;

23.

suggests, given that 2011 is the European Year for Volunteering, that the New Skills and Jobs Agenda should take into account the value of volunteering in expanding a person's range of skills; further requests that existing certification schemes recognising skills, knowledge and experience acquired through volunteering should be linked with the Europass CV scheme to facilitate EU-wide recognition of relevant volunteering experiences and employability;

24.

believes that the existing services already provided by many local and regional authorities in the provision of mentoring and counselling services and in incentivising and assisting companies, particularly SMEs, should be explicitly acknowledged and that their role in co-investing and facilitating academic–commercial linkages should be highlighted and further supported;

The EU agenda for the promotion of labour mobility

25.

notes that only 15 % of labour market mobility is due to internal EU cross-border movement and that the share of working age migrants arriving from third countries is twice as high as the share of migrants from other Member States; believes that mapping of the skills profile of third country nationals as proposed by the European Commission is to be welcomed and stresses that it should place emphasis on social and economic integration and involve national, regional and local authorities. However, any such mapping must be undertaken with great care, and with respect for personal integrity;

26.

recognises that the European Commission supports labour mobility as an adjustment mechanism to inter-regional market imbalances but notes that this has implications for the principle of Territorial Cohesion; urges greater consideration of ‘brain-drain’ effects and the disparate impacts of labour mobility on both the ‘home’ and ‘receiving’ regions, as the pursuit of such a policy risks that short term gains to overall employment levels across the EU will give rise to longer term costs within some peripheral regions. Ultimately, calls for a major debate on the migration experience amongst Member States and their constituent regions and on the implications for the long-term growth potential of individual regions;

Improving the Quality of Work and Working Conditions

27.

welcomes the proposal to undertake a large scale evaluation of the present legislative ‘acquis’ on quality of work and working conditions, but urges the European Commission to include in its considerations the uneven implementation of EU directives to date across Member States;

28.

highlights the significant programmes of rationalisation and tightening of budgets that are on-going in local and regional authorities across a number of EU Member States at this time and points to the possible difficulties for authorities in managing this alongside a progressive programme for the treatment of their workers. In their bid to preserve the standard of front line services with fewer financial and human resources, there is a worrying potential for local and regional authorities to encounter difficulties in complying with the Working Time Directive. Productivity increases alone are likely to be insufficient to meet the volume of service targets and there will be inevitable pressure on the reduced number of staff to work longer hours. Once realistic improvements in productivity have been realised, a trade-off between fewer manpower resources and the volume of services that can be provided is to be expected. Local and regional authorities must be supported in setting an example in complying with labour employment rules and they are urged to adopt realistic targets for service delivery;

29.

recognises that Member States retain control over the legislative enforcement of such protective laws, but suggests that the EU could establish an information collation and dissemination tool, particularly with regard to the application of health and safety rules – a ‘Health and Safety Monitor’, to allow for exchange of information about anomalies in implementation across Member States;

30.

notes that the New Skills and Jobs Agenda makes reference to in-work poverty but regrettably fails to make any specific proposals in terms of quality work, sustainable employment and adequate income to directly address this persistent issue;

Supporting Job Creation

31.

supports the view that SMEs will be the engine of future employment growth and that there will need to be higher entrepreneurial activity levels across the EU economy to support a growing working age population and in order to depart from high dependency levels on foreign direct investment in certain regions, but calls for a broader approach to entrepreneurship training and adaptation to the new sectoral composition of the economy. A greater emphasis is necessary on entrepreneurship in education systems, but it also needs to filter into the training and reskilling of older workers, both public and private, to encourage greater innovation within existing workplaces;

32.

welcomes the emphasis on the ‘think small first’ principle, which should be applied across all pillars of the flagship; further underlines that supports should not only be confined to start-ups, new SMEs and hi-tech enterprises but also to those undergoing development and re-structuring, to ensure the long-term sustainability of all enterprises;

33.

agrees that efforts must be made to push jobs from the informal into the formal sector and highlights that regulation of particular domestic and care activities will be necessary to achieve this, calls for a proposal from the European Commission on the detail on the types of incentives to advance this as soon as possible;

34.

considers that, when executing their public procurement contracts, government authorities can also contribute to the recruitment of the long-term unemployed, people with disabilities and trainees. Thus government can include a requirement in their call for tender to the effect that the successful bidder must earmark a given percentage of the value of the contract for the recruitment of these target groups. The scope for doing this is not being fully used at the moment. The Committee therefore recommends, in accordance with its opinion on the modernisation of EU public procurement policy, the promotion at EU level of social procurement and the recruitment of the long-term unemployed, people with disabilities and trainees when executing public procurement contracts;

EU Financial Instruments at the Service of New Skills and Jobs

35.

would welcome greater clarity on how the objectives of the New Skills and Jobs flagship are to be addressed by the relevant EU programmes during the current programme period but would caution against radical changes in operational programmes at this stage in the implementation process;

36.

supports the call for better use of, and greater synergy, between EU funds, as proposed in the Budget Review (3) to support the objectives of the New Skills and Jobs Agenda. Considers, however, that this can be best achieved through;

Place-based approaches– improved coordination between sectoral and territorial policies via a multi-fund approach (Common Strategic Framework) and in particular a stronger territorial dimension of the ESF (which is implemented through broad national programmes only in some member States). Member States and regions should retain sufficient flexibility to define their own priorities and draw up mixes of appropriate policy responses to national/regional specificities;

Multi-level governance approach– to provide a greater alignment between Europe 2020 objectives and the ambitions of Cohesion Policy the establishment of Development and Investment Partnership Contracts is welcome. These contracts should be developed in conjunction with all levels of governance to ensure regional programming does not simply become a tool determined by national priorities;

A Results-based approach– monitoring of progress in terms of quantitative and qualitative indicators to support evaluation and policy-making. This would help to reinforce actions towards priorities and also link with the country specific recommendations in the framework of Europe 2020 (Article 148 TFEU). The development of a common impact evaluation framework at EU level is required, in order to achieve this;

37.

would welcome consideration of stronger links between reporting obligations under Europe 2020 and the National Reform Programmes and those for Cohesion Policy, with a view to avoiding duplication and achieving more effective results;

38.

recognises the need for better use of EU funds to achieve reforms in the fields of employment, education and training, but rejects proposals for contractually binding ‘conditionality’ to be applied to funding, as there should be no punitive link between a region's entitlement to Cohesion Policy funds and the effectiveness of Member States' institutions and macroeconomic policies;

39.

suggests that, based on the experiences of implementing some funds, such as the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF), there needs to be better coordination between all EU funds addressing skills and jobs;

40.

wishes to assist the European Commission in monitoring the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy and its flagships by local and regional authorities through its Europe 2020 Monitoring Platform.

Brussels, 1 July 2011.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Mercedes BRESSO


(1)  COM(2010) 642 (9.11.2010).

(2)  CdR 246/2008 fin.

(3)  COM(2010) 700, 19.10.2010.