European Competence Summit - 8 November 2011

Speech Herman Van Rompuy


In the midst of the eurozone crisis - crucial for our future - I put structural economic growth on the agenda of the EC. I asked the Commission to introduce the topic. I present you know the conclusions of this report related to human capital and skills. It draws a dark picture. I quote .

  • "Today in the EU, only about one person in three aged 25-34 has completed a university degree, compared to well above 50 % in Japan and more than 40 % in the US. Canada, Australia and South Korea all do better than the EU.
  • 66 % of Europeans have low or no IT skills. The situation is also worrying for IT professionals. The number of IT graduates has not increased since 2008. If this persists, the EU may lack 700 000 IT professionals by 2015.
  • Every year, 6 million of young Europeans drop out of school with at best a lower secondary education. This currently represents 14 % of 18-24 year olds.
  • About 80 million people in the EU have only low or basic skills. More access to training could help reduce this, but actual participation is stagnating. Participation is highest for the youngest, the most educated and the employed, and is thus lowest amongst groups needing training the most. 
  • Female employment rates vary a lot in the EU. If the share of part-time is factored in to estimate a "full-time equivalent employment rate", less than half of the female workforce is employed in several countries. The availability of childcare seems to play an important role."

We can't lose time. It is completely normal that the EU and the US are losing market shares in the world economy and world trade. It is positive that emerging countries can decrease poverty levels due to strong economic growth. It is less positive that we are not using our potential and are wasting opportunities.

"Life long learning" is a necessity. It is a question of survival.

"Lifelong learning" is a comprehensive concept ; it should not to be mixed up with other notions, such as "education" or "qualification", even if these notions are part of the broader "lifelong learning" approach.
In fact, "lifelong learning" should be associated with the concept of "skills" (NL oftewel "vaardigheden" FR en français, quelque chose entre les "talents" et les "compétences" …). It has to do with the way people use theirs kills, at work and in their private life, the way they develop them and the way they acquire new ones. And "skills" is really what matters.
For individuals : because skills have an increasing impact on success at the labour market and on social participation.
And for economies at large : because failure to ensure a good "skill match" has both short-term consequences (the so-called "skills shortages") and long-term effects on economic growth and equality of opportunities.

And the demand for skills is, these recent years, rapidly changing. The skills that are the easiest to teach and to test, as "routine cognitive" or "routine manual" skills, are also the ones that are the easiest to digitise, automate and outsource.
On the other hand, a skill as the one concerning the capacity to share knowledge with others has knows a higher demand. So do also the non routine analytic skills.
"In 2000, 22 % of the jobs required high qualifications while 29 % required low qualifications. In 2010, it was the reverse.
By 2020, 35 % of the jobs will require high qualifications and 12 million jobs less will require low qualifications."

Today, the market, but also the society in general, puts less emphasis on knowledge standing for itself on the capacity people have to solve problems. Every time new problems. That is why if we want the Union's economies to grow, and I definitely want it, we should first of all look at the "skill supply".
We cannot change our economies without changing our skills supply. This should be our first priority. And changing the skills supply has a lot to do, with how to motivate people, how to make them responsive, adaptive, open to a changing world and open to change, to be as much as possible integrated into this world. It is about psychology as much as about economy !
We have to concentrate on this, not only to improve the economic situation but also to help each person to better develop its capacities and to feel better in our society. Research shows in fact that the costs of the crisis have been paid to a large extent by the poorly qualified.

Menselijk Kapitaal

Investeren in "skills" on "human capital" vergt ook budgettaire keuzes temidden van budgettaire saneringen. De keuze voor onderwijs, vorming, R& D tesamen vormt al ongeveer 10 pct. van het BBP of 1/4 van de overheidsuitgaven. Besparingen zullen dus elders moeten gebeuren.

Inzake onderwijs zullen wij een grote inspanning moeten doen inzake democratisering. Kinderen uit lagere inkomensgroepen stoten nog ruim onvoldoende door tot hoger en universitair onderwijs. Dat geldt a fortiori voor allochtonen. Groot menselijk en economisch potentieel gaat verloren zeker in een tijd van krimpende beroepsbevolking door demografie.
Onderwijs is bij allochtonen zelfs de weg naar integratie. Omgekeerd is gebrek aan onderwijs en werk een potentiële bron van maatschappelijke instabiliteit.
Onderwijs is niet alleen van belang voor de arbeidsmarkt en economie maar ook voor de mentaliteit in een samenleving. Lange tijd heeft men gezegd : "Pas une tête bien pleine mais bien faite". Men mag niet vervallen in een situatie waarin men geen van beide heeft. Onderwijs moet mensen ook "empoweren" door de nadruk op karaktervorming, discipline en enthousiasme. Men kan beter stress aan als men een positievere ingesteldheid heeft. We hebben een positieve spirit nodig in onze samenleving. Het is opvallend hoe die wel aanwezig is in Aziatische landen bijvoorbeeld. Wij moeten vechten tegen de sinistrose van het Avondland. Natuurlijk is dit niet alleen een zaak van onderwijs alleen. Menselijke kwaliteiten zullen het verschil maken. De mens in al zijn dimensies moet zich kunnen ontwikkelen. Dit is zeker nodig in een wereld in bestendige mutatie. Sterke veranderingen worden opgevangen door mensen die op vele gebieden sterk staan.

Op Europees vlak moeten wij alle talent aanboren o.m. door mobiliteit. Wij hebben al tal van programma's die dit aanmoedigen en met succes ondanks onze grote "handicap" van 23 talen. Dé Europese arbeidsmarkt bestaat niet. Ze is bijzonder heterogeen en verbrokkeld. Bij jonge mensen hebben de drempels minder belang, maar er kan nog meer gebeuren. In de "war on talents" mogen wij geen talent laten verloren gaan.

Zonder economische groei kunnen wij ons sociaal model niet handhaven. Daarom moeten wij alle "untapped potential" mobiliseren, van de 'single market" tot "skills" toe.
Groei is een zaak van, voor en door mensen. Zeker in die bange dagen moet dit des te meer gezegd worden.