After spending over 30 years working in education and training and having witnessed the rise and fall of previous grand plans for economic growth and inclusion, it is tempting to view the Osnabrück Declaration with a degree of scepticism if not cynicism. However, forever an optimist, I offer the following observations.
Describing itself as an ambitious roadmap for vocational education and training in Europe until 2025t the Osnabrück Declaration sets out four objectives which it sees as the operational components of the European Council’s recommendation, of late 2020, on vocational education and training for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness, and resilience. These objectives are:
- Resilience and excellence through quality, inclusive and flexible VET
- Establishing a new lifelong learning culture – relevance of CVET and digitalisation
- Sustainability – a green link in VET
- European Education and Training Area and international VET
It would be difficult to disagree with the Osnabrück objectives in determining the broad direction of skills education and training post-pandemic. However, to avoid a ‘one size fits all approach’, their interpretation and implementation, locally, is likely to benefit from the incorporation of some complementary and additional measures, which pay due heed to factors like demography, existing skill and qualification levels, the breadth of the local and regional economies, variations in wealth and deprivation levels, the availability and use of land, regional growth capacity, transport and digital infrastructure, potential vulnerabilities and shocks, and political imperatives. Whilst some lessons may be learned from previous economic and political shocks and pandemics, reviewing what has happened before is unlikely to offer perfect answers, but it does offer some useful learning for policy and practise. Therefore, if the future of vocational education and training is to take account of sustainability, competitiveness, fairness, and resilience whilst addressing climate change, the broadest possible range of stakeholders should be encouraged to contribute to shaping the most appropriate form for local, national, and global needs. Consequently, an open approach that welcomes and encourages debate and genuine engagement with citizens of all ages and backgrounds should be welcomed and fostered, and stretch beyond the “usual suspects”, “the great and the good”, or the most articulate and strident voices. Navigating the Covid pandemic has produced significant changes in the way we work and has generated better recognition of the social value of workers who pre-pandemic were unnoticed or ignored. Their voices and opinions are no less important than those of any career politician or policy officer based in a faraway capital city. If we are serious about planning for a fairer, greener, more flexible approach to training and retraining, then it pays to remember that human beings have two ears and one mouth, which is the correct balance between listening and talking.