Towards a European individual learning account

The authors would like to thank Jacques Delors, whose dedication to the topic of lifelong learning has greatly inspired their work. They would also like to acknowledge the input provided for this policy brief by David Kunst, Sébastien Maillard, Euléane Omez and David Rinaldi.

Introduction ▪

The coronavirus pandemic has triggered the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Although short time work schemes in place in EU countries have managed to mitigate job losses, some sectors have suffered the lion’s share of the damage, with the risk, once these schemes come to an end, of seeing both unemployment levels and the need for career transitions skyrocket over the next few months. In addition, the crisis and the recovery strategy adopted by EU decision makers are expected to accelerate the digital and green transitions and, as a consequence, the rapid and deep changes already at work on the labour market will intensify. Indeed, the current megatrends –digitalisation, globalisation, population ageing and the green transition– are changing the quantity and quality of jobs available. Some will be destroyed or will change significantly, for instance due to automation. But new jobs will also be created, for instance by artificial intelligence but also in the care economy and in all fields related to the green transition like renewable energies, energy efficiency, the circular economy, waste management, etc.

Skills development is and will remain an important enabler of these transformations. Only with a skilled and resilient labour force will we be able to reap the benefits of the ongoing transitions. As Jacques Delors stated back in 1989, individuals should not only be given the opportunities to adapt to the transformations of our societies, but to lead and drive them. All the while, the need for upskilling and reskilling in the EU continues to grow. To address this need and reach the new European target of having 60% of European adults train each year by 2030, adult learning systems have a key role to play in supporting individuals to maintain and acquire new skills throughout their working lives.
At EU level, adult learning systems all face common challenges, and while responsibilities in the field of adult learning mostly lie at national and regional levels, the EU has an important role to play to ensure that the right to lifelong learning, enshrined in the European Pillar of Social Rights, becomes a reality all across Europe. To do so, the European Commission has pledged to explore the idea of individual learning accounts (ILAs) to close existing gaps in access to training and empower adults to successfully manage labour market transitions.

Drawing on a recent report on the topic, this policy brief identifies the current shortcomings of adult learning systems in the EU and attempts to provide some answers to these challenges by presenting a rationale for an EU initiative on individual learning accounts. We argue that European action in this field should be twofold: first, adopting an EU
recommendation to establish national ILAs according to European guidelines, and then, creating a European Individual Learning Account to make training rights portable not only across jobs and status, but also across countries.