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15 January 2018

Estonia: further vocational education reform to tackle skill shortages

During its presidency of the EU-Council in the second half of 2017, Estonia gave a high priority to the promotion of issues of vocational education. During the last decade, reform of its Vocational Education and Training (VET)-system has been on the national political agenda, with social partners being closely involved. The demographic changes and frictions in the labour market necessitate to work towards a more inclusive labour market, with special attention for digital skills.

The VET system in Estonia has changed over the past decade and participation in lifelong learning has increased, reflecting both demographic trends and the changing needs of the labour market. The changes were supported by reforms that aimed at making VET more attractive to workers. As a result, VET has become the most important active labour market policy measure, which absorbed 75 per cent of expenditure on active measures in 2014. Retraining measures for the unemployed targeted especially at-risk groups in the labour market – young people and the long-term unemployed, and the creation of special measures for people with disabilities. The trade unions and employer organisations participated in the working groups on developing VET legislation in the late 1990s and in 2013. The objective being to ensure high quality vocational training was repeated in the National Reform Programme ‘Estonia 2020’ that the government approved in April 2017 and was constantly stressed during the presidency of the EU-Council in the 2nd half of 2017.  

According to the OECD economic survey of September 2017, the country faces a more severe decline in its working-age population than in most other European countries and skill shortages are a major obstacle to investment. Therefore, the country should prioritise policies to address the growing skills shortage. This should include a greater focus on the quality of and participation in adult education; more attention to child care services and the sharing of childcare duties between men and women in order to ensure that women have equal opportunities in the work force; and improving the country’s attractiveness for skilled migrants. The OECD recommends to make the labour market more inclusive and attractive.

The most topical questions at the moment are which skills are required for the rapidly changing labour market, how can workers keep up with the ever-changing demand for skills, and how can the accessibility of refresher training and retraining possibilities be improved for the ever-growing number of workers who do not have access to state programmes aimed at unemployed persons or employees who are at risk of losing their job. Another topical question is how to equip working persons with the necessary digital skills. In a September 2017 conference the Future of Work several contributors made a plea for e-transforming the economy and the labour market. The participants discussed the implications for skills. The presentations of this conference are available on the Internet. 

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