Politics & Policies

Individual Learning Accounts – Filling the training gaps

Individual learning accounts can make the right to training tangible for all but EU member states will need to raise their commitment.

the commission proposes that member states set up personal accounts, with adequate training entitlements, for all adults of working age. Account owners could receive additional entitlements from their employer or other funders and use these for training, skills validation or career guidance whenever they wished. The accounts would be embedded in an enabling framework with a national registry of opportunities eligible for funding from them—with a strong role for social partners in governance to ensure labour-market relevance—as well as access to career guidance and validation and paid training leave for employed adults.

Social partners key

As highlighted by trade unions, individual learning accounts are not the only way to implement the right to training. Nine out of ten job-related training activities in the EU are at least partly sponsored by the current employer and/or take place during working hours, highlighting the key role social partners play in providing access. Indeed, social-partner responsibility for training needs to be further strengthened for successful and socially fair digital and green transitions.

But policy-makers need to be aware of the limits of employer-organised training. First, many adults have less access or none at all, because they are in atypical forms of work, work for companies which do not provide training or are unemployed. Hence while 55 per cent of employees of large companies have participated in training in the last 12 months, this applies to only 29 per cent of adults not in permanent employment.

Secondly, what employers offer does not always correspond with what workers want. Eight out of ten adults who did not participate in learning in the past year ‘did not want’ to and nine out of ten adults say that if training were better adapted to individual learning needs this would encourage more participation.

Some of the underlying challenges are structural. Investment in long-term staff development is challenging for smaller companies in particular, and a focus on short-term productivity in a worker’s current role need not be aligned with her professional ambitions or the training needs flowing from broader labour-market trends. The digital transition increases the importance of transversal and social skills on labour markets—but the benefits of transversal skills are by definition widespread, leading to a risk of insufficient investment by the current employer.

Personalised training

Individual learning accounts can address these limits of employer-organised training. They also allow full advantage to be taken of recent advances in digital and blended learning for more personalised training.

There are, of course, concerns to address. One is that individual learning accounts may not reach some of the groups who may benefit most from training, such as those with low formal qualifications. But properly designed accounts can do so, as shown by the recent experience of the French Compte personnel de formation (CPF). While those with low qualifications initially participated less, they are no longer under-represented following a 2019 reform which simplified use of the accounts (including via a phone application). As with the CPF, the commission proposes a ‘universal but differentiated’ approach, whereby groups with additional training needs receive extra support to encourage participation.

A second concern is that individual learning accounts may shift responsibility for training on to individuals and crowd out employer support. The principle that account owners freely select training among eligible opportunities however ensures that the accounts fill the gaps between, rather than substitute for, employer-organised training.

Guaranteeing access to guidance, validation and a registry of recognised training opportunities makes it easier for individuals to navigate the market for continuing training—often fragmented and opaque—providing reassurance that training will be worth their time. It can also encourage standardisation of training content, facilitating the recognition of skills. History suggests that in times of rapidly changing skill requirements such standardisation can increase workers’ bargaining power and wages, by improving their ability to communicate acquired skills to potential employers.

Rather than shifting responsibility on to individuals, individual learning accounts can hence translate the collective responsibility for the right to training into real opportunities for them.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story @  Learning accounts—filling the training gaps – David Kunst

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