'Skills’ has become the new buzzword with the European Commission’s initiative to declare this year the ‘European Year of Skills’. Flagship events, conferences, workshops, pacts for skills—all revolve around how to break the mould to meet the massive skills challenges of the twin green and digital transition. Indeed, since that transformation is changing occupations at unprecedented speed, we need an equally ambitious mobilisation.

The figures are overwhelming: the European Battery Alliance says 800,000 workers need re- or upskilled across the value chain to match the European Union’s ambitions on batteries, while research by the Boston Consulting Group for the European Electromobility Platform estimates that 2.4 million automotive workers will need to be retrained by 2030. Not to mention the 25 million manufacturing, mining and energy workers in Europe who will need retraining or upskilling to meet the challenges of the green and digital transitions in the next decade, as jobs change, some are lost and others are created.

Skills shortages

IndustriAll European Trade Union has welcomed this focus on skills: skills shortages have fallen off the radar of policy-makers for the past two decades and we have been warning they risk becoming the Achilles heel of the European Green Deal and jeopardising the digital transformation. Matters have reached an unprecedented urgency and the solutions trade unions have proposed are more timely than ever.

IndustriAll Europe is actively participating in many Year of Skills events and initiatives (such as the European ‘Pact for Skills’ or the EU blueprints in different sectors), highlighting that training and job attractiveness are keys to unlock the skills challenges. But we are calling as a concrete result for a ‘right to training’, to ensure all workers enjoy the right to gain access to training to enhance their job security in light of the twin transition.

This is the very first principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR), on which the commission has yet to deliver. It is the only way to achieve the goal of the EPSR Action Plan that at least 60 per cent of adults participate in train every year—starting from this one.

Quality jobs

Lifelong learning, up- and reskilling are part and parcel of quality jobs. This is why access to training is fundamental to employment security and good working conditions. A right to training would guarantee access on the job (or between jobs), during working hours and without costs (for workers). Given the twin transition is rapidly changing the content and even the nature of jobs, such a guarantee is fundamental if workers are to keep up with the demands of their occupations and be able to work in good conditions.

A right to training so guaranteed at EU and national levels has to be negotiated collectively by the social partners, to tailor its implementation to the reality in each sector and company. The social partners, especially at the sectoral level, are best placed to map skills and to anticipate the needs of their industries. They can develop training pathways to meet shortfalls and present plans for those workers who require up- and reskilling. Such maps, forecasts and plans for individual workers are essential to manage the skills challenges of the twin transition.

Strong involvement of the social partners, through social dialogue and collective bargaining, is also essential to raise awareness of the urgency for companies to step up re- and upskilling policies and for workers to benefit from quality training offers. Collective agreements must clearly stipulate: the time off work to which one is entitled to undergo training, the guarantee that training is cost-free for workers and recognition of the acquired skill or qualification through concrete forms of compensation.

Good examples

There are many good examples which show that on-the-job training is working where the social partners are actively engaged and conclude good collective agreements. In Sweden, two landmark collective agreements have been turned into law and guarantee the right to financial support for short and longer education programmes for skills development for workers in employment and between jobs.

In Germany, IG Metall is negotiating ‘collective agreements for the future’ which establish a framework for securing employment, as the social partners jointly anticipate the job and skills needs in a rapidly transforming industrial landscape. In the Netherlands, social partners in the metals sector have recently joined forces to tackle skills shortages. And at European level, in the gas sectoral social dialogue, industriAll Europe, the European Federation of Public Service Unions and Eurogas are negotiating an agreement on ‘just transition’ addressing employability and training.

We are at a turning point. The European Year of Skills can make a difference in enabling workers’ access to training and bridging the skills gaps. We then only need the political will to deliver the right to training that is key to a just green transition and a digitalisation fair for workers.

Article published in Social Europe: Making the twin transition: skills at a premium