Plea for Euro-mutuality;FE Focus
An uphill task still lies ahead, with language and culture the main obstacles, a conference on improving access to jobs in the European Union was told.
Professor Bob Cryer, chair of the National Advisory Group for Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning, said it was important to build on the European links this country already had, whether through football or the arts.
"Not too long ago the British contact with foreigners would be to police them or to engage them in armed conflict," he told last week's conference, at the National Motor Heritage Centre in Warwickshire. "Now we are starting to learn about each other through various means."
He said that to equip people to meet the challenge of working throughout the European Union needed reform of education and training, and mutually-agreed qualifications throughout the Continent.
Education minister Kim Howells echoed the idea that Europe should be seen as a place for job opportunities rather than just holidays, and he believed the barriers were being broken down.
But John Berkeley, senior fellow in the department of continuing education at Warwick University, said the Department for Education and Employment could ensure a European dimension to work tomorrow if it had the will to take decisive action rather than simply talk.
He said all it needed was for the department to incorporate a European dimension into the criteria for Modern Apprenticeships appropriate to the needs of the trainee. A European dimension should should also be the overarching aim of the national curriculum.
He added: "I am not suggesting uniformity or a blanket requirement. In some cases it might be a linguistic ingredient. What was devised in retailing might be different from engineering. However, if the department is serious it could signal that intent."
Without a commitment from the Government, the present voluntary approach would continue and be dependent on keen enthusiasts. Left that way, he believes good practice will continue to be the exception rather than the rule.
David Sherlock, chief inspector at the Training Standards Council, said the problems were not at the top or bottom of the labour market. Talented designers, architects and civil engineers exported their skills. And sweat and toil had always had an international currency.
He added: "We have a significant problem in the middle of the employment structure. To make transnational employability possible, there needs to be cultural, business and social compatibility."
Mr Sherlock said the Office for Standards in Education, the Quality Assurance Agency, the Further Education Funding Council and the Training Standards Council should emphasise internal self-assessment rather than concentrate on external regulation, otherwise it would demoralise schools and training providers.
He also envisaged a change in standards. "We now have a situation where standards are largely set by government, universities and industry. The reform of standards is likely to bring that international experience of industry into standard setting. We will see international standards for competencies at last. That will obviously help transnational employability."
Keith Anderson, chair of the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges, called for Ofsted, the QAA and Teacher Training Agency to work together to develop a joint European strategy relevant to the three separate, but complementary, areas of education.
He argued that "the European dimension should be an explicit element in teacher training, in continuing professional development and in the training and qualifications of headteachers. I am concerned that without teachers being both adequately prepared and being role models in their own right, then changes to the curriculum are not going to have the full effect. There is a need for effective leadership by head."
Walter Hasselkus, chairman and chief executive of Rover Group, said: "This is a time of great change for education and training in the UK The Government is encouraging us all to reflect on how our system of education and training can be improved. But this cannot just be a preparation for adult and working life in Britain; it must be within the wider context of European employability."
And he added: "Only by ensuring that the future European workforce has the necessary skills and knowledge, and positive attitudes towards learning and work, will Europe as a whole be able to compete with other world economies."
Mr Hasselkus believed the lack of a workforce with an international perspective weakened the UK economy and put people at a disadvantage. He cited figures showing 55 per cent of young people in the UK cannot speak another EU language, the highest proportion in the community.
It was far easier, because of their language skills, for German trainees to come to the UK than vice versa.
"The challenge for us is to create a policy environment that recognises and promotes the importance of a European dimension, and an education and training system that supports it as an integral feature of both pre- and post-16 education and training for all."