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Key Skills Framework
Enhancing employability within a lifelong learning paradigm

A working paper by the Skills Research Initiative
A prior version of this paper was accepted for presentation at the International Technology Education and Development (INTED) annual conference 2007.

Author - Aidan Kenny, Ray English, Dave Kilmartin

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Meso perspective: European policy context

In the European context several policy documents have stressed the need for up-skilling and employability, with particular emphases on the EU becoming the most competitive economy in the world by 2010. Strategies are aimed at mobility, access to education and training, improving both basic and key skills levels, increasing the number of PhD and post-doctoral researchers, and recognition and translation of awards through the provision of a meta-framework (the European Qualifications Framework (EQF)). Other important initiatives include: Lisbon Agenda 2010, Bologna Process, Copenhagen Declaration, European Research Area, European Higher Education Area, and subsequent follow-up progress reports. Two new major initiatives for 2007–2013 are the Lifelong Learning programme and the Platform 7 research funding programme. The extract below gives an example of the policy trend being pursued by the EU Commission (see note 22):

The Council has repeatedly emphasised the dual role – social and economic – of education and training systems. Education and training are a determining factor in each country’s potential for excellence, innovation and competitiveness. At the same time, they are an integral part of the social dimension of Europe, because they transmit values of solidarity, equal opportunities and social participation, while also producing positive effects on health, crime, the environment, democratisation and general quality of life. All citizens need to acquire and continually update their knowledge, skills and competences through lifelong learning, and the specific needs of those at risk of social exclusion need to be taken into account. This will help to raise labour force participation and economic growth, while ensuring social cohesion. Investing in education and training has a price, but high private, economic and social returns in the medium and long-term outweigh the costs. Reforms should therefore continue to seek synergies between economic and social policy objectives, which are in fact mutually reinforcing.
(EU Commission 2005: 3)

The SRI project will use the above-mentioned EU documents as points of references and as leads into other policy areas and will undertake a full document analysis of the collected documents. The project will endeavour to produce Key Skills Learning Modules that are in alignment with policy trends in both a European and national context. A primary aim will be to give citizens access to learning tools that will enable their employability potential. A second aim is to provide a positive learning experience that will encourage citizens to engage in FE and training, (a lifelong learning cycle). This will offer some protection in the now rapidly changing work environment.

Macro perspective on employability

From a macro perspective, utilising global context, employability as a construct is firmly on the agenda, specifically in relation to international organisations that seek to influence policy formation and implementation within different nation states. Here we identify some of the major international agencies that influence the global employability agenda.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is a prime example. It first sought to negotiate binding legal international agreements relating to trade (import and exports) through the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) in 1996 but has now ventured into gaining agreement on internal services through the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). WTO claims that nation state protectionist policies pursued during and prior to the 1980s had led to inflation, overexpansion, fiscal deficit and a downturn in economic growth. A ‘New Liberalism’ emerged, taking corrective action by enacting a market-orientated approach, reducing restrictive trade practices and policies, deregulation, and encouraging competition, mainly in the area of trade. More relevant to our present topic is the fact that GATT, which provisionally focused on trade-related issues, began to colonise the services sector space (see the emergence with GATS in 1994 which continues to evolve). The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has through both research activities and information dissemination promoted the notion of market liberalisation somewhat in line with the WTO. OCED international and national reports on education and training have placed great emphasis on the human capital approach and also, to an extent, have supported individualisation, particularly in relation to user pays (fees). Human capital investment and employability are identified as positive strategies that can enhance productivity and economic development (see OECD 1999, 2003). The World Bank, on the other hand, has enabled human capital capacity building programmes in developing countries through the provision of strategic loans and finances (see Samoff and Carol 2003). The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has carried out several comparative and country reports relating to employability and labour. The ILO also has a specific department assigned to the field, the Skills and Employability Department. The ILO’s research and information dissemination work relating to employment is situated in a global context; one of its major projects  is called ‘Global Employment Agenda; Employment strategies in support of decent work’. The United Nations Education and Science Committee Organization (UNESCO) has carried out valuable research and active advocacy relating to the right to access education and the positive developmental benefits inherent in education and training programmes, both for the individual and the nation state. Other powerful interest groups related to industry, trade unions and private providers of education and training that have effectively lobbied for a change of policy will be explored. It is the aim of the SRI project team to explore and analyse the major reports produced by these organisations as they relate to employability.


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