European skills pass

22 October 2014

A standardized, pan-European vocational transfer system has been proposed. Its benefits include worker mobility, mutual recognition, harmonization and improvement of education, all of which happen to be pressing issues in the European labour market’s international competitiveness. By Alicia Lacal Molina and Ulrik von Estorff

During the past few decades, one of the most important issues facing the European Union has been to create a unique, well-structured and harmonized educational system for all EU territory. This new educational system would be appropriate for facing the new challenges of the EU as a single economy: ageing of the labour market, integration of the 28 different economies, facilitating the workforce mobility, creation of a competitive workforce, and so on.

ECVET is a European initiative intended to encompass pre- and post- graduate education, as well as recognize several types of learning:

  • Formal: learning that occurs in an organised and structured
  • context (in a school/training centre or on the job) and is explicitly designated as learning (in terms of objectives, time or learning support). Formal learning is intentional from the learner's point of view. It typically leads to certification.
  • Non-formal: learning that occurs in a formal learning environment, but that is not formally recognised, typically involving workshops, community courses, interest based courses, short courses, or conference style seminars
  • Informal: learning resulting from daily work-related, family or leisure activities that is not organised or structured (in terms of objectives, time or learning support); in most cases unintentional from the learner's perspective, and typically does not lead to certification.
  • Incidental: random learning refers to unintentional learning occurring at any time and in any place, in everyday life.

ECVET can be characterized as a huge and experimental initiative, in which it is necessary to explore, innovate and research before its implementation in order to obtain the best results.

Despite not being implemented at official levels, several initiatives have been developed to facilitate a better and more accurate implementation of the new vocational systems. All these initiatives have been identified by the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP), the designated European agency in charge of ECVET, and split in several categories (Figure 1).

Potential benefits

Over the past years, the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and other emerging countries have transformed the world labour market due to the low costs of their own labour market. In order to increase profits, industry has moved its production base to those countries. Initially, those workforces were not as skilled as European workforces; but the situation is changing. In the future, the European workforce risks becoming competitive in neither costs nor skills, if no measures are taken. The European workforce must maintain a high level of standards to avoid this situation.

At this point, we must stress that the improvement of the competitiveness is impossible within 28 different national systems. Therefore it is necessary to create a single and unique system. The aim of ECVET is to harmonize the national systems without destroying them, but rather sharing and implementing the good practices. Benefits of ECVET have been split up by actors (Table 1). ECVET promises to benefit not only individuals but also the whole society.

In technical terms, ECVET is based on the description of qualification in terms of knowledge, skills and wider competences, organised into units, with the allocation of credit points depending on their relative weight. The ECVET system requires several tools. They are different to other educational credits systems (such as the European Credit Transfer System -ECTS- used currently in the EU-27 education systems). Learning Outcomes (LO) are based on knowledge, skills and competencies (referred as KSC) and refer to statements of what a learner knows, understands and is able to do on completion of a learning process. Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) are agreements between the different actors (competent institutions and ECVET providers) aiming at qualification of specific competences and arrangements for credit transfer for learners. A learning agreement (LA) is an official document in which the different actors involved in the learning process (home institution, host institution and learner) support the transfer of the learner. Home and host institutions establish the basis of this transfer using European documents (such as a possible future European Nuclear Competence Passport). It is necessary to note that the LA is an individualized document, which sets out the conditions for a specific mobility period and for a particular learner.

Additionally, ECVET will integrate existing instruments into a single framework that should be implemented in the future by all EU Member States. They include:

  • Europass
  • Qualifications Framework for the European Higher Education Area (QF-EHEA)
  • European Skills, Competences and Occupations taxonomy (ESCO)
  • European Qualifications Framework (EQF)
  • European Quality Assurance in Vocational Education and Training (EQAVET)
  • European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS).

ECVET in nuclear energy

In the nuclear energy sector, ECVET initiatives were pushed as a result of the European Commission efforts, particularly by the Research and Innovation Directorate-General, the Education and Culture Directorate-General, and the Joint Research Centre/Institute of Energy and Transport. DG RTD, as an agent of the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), aimed to the European Fission Training Scheme (EFTS) Project Partnerships to work in the ECVET system. The European Human Resource Observatory in Nuclear Energy Sector (EHRO-N), run by the Joint Research Centre/Institute of Energy and Transport, has supported the initiative, as the implementation is crucial for a significant gap analysis of knowledge, skills and competences in the nuclear energy sector. ECVET in the nuclear energy sector has obtained the support of international organizations, such as Foratom and the European Nuclear Society (ENS). ECVET is also supported by the Sustainable Energy Technology Platform's (SET-PLAN) E&T Roadmap. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has also shown interest in the ECVET approach.

The JRC's Institute of Energy has carried out a questionnaire based on the potential benefits of ECVET for the nuclear industry, developed implementation documentation and carried out workshops. A series of five workshops was held from October 2011-November 2013 in Bergen (Netherlands) (twice), Petten (Netherlands), Thessaloniki (Greece) and Madrid (Spain). A main objective of these workshops was to complete a job taxonomy. A job taxonomy allows the VET providers to develop training courses and vocational education, according to the ECVET principles. Courses and education created under these principles will be the basis of mobility. In September 2012, the IET-JRC in collaboration with the ECVET Team ( organised the first ECVET Seminar for the Nuclear Energy Sector to disseminate the ECVET principles, benefits and tools and to educate nuclear VET providers on implementation.

DG RTD asked to the project consortia to take the benefits of the new system into account in their work packages. Eight EFTS projects (see Table 2) deal with the implementing ECVET principles. Challenges encountered in this work include the lack of awareness of ECVET in the nuclear energy sector.


Despite its particularities, a nuclear ECVET system is possible. Given the current situation its implementation is not only possible, but necessary. ECVET is a system that could produce many benefits, not only for the learner, but especially for the organisations and for the society. Being realistic, it is necessary to bear in mind that ECVET, as a complex system, has to be implemented in the best possible way.

In consequence, it is necessary to involve as many actors as possible, especially employers and employees who are the final customers. There is still much to do and explore, but some good building blocks have already been created. Now is the time that the nuclear community plays an active role in the development, implementation and application of the ECVET system, which can result in advantages and benefits in the short- and medium-term, as well as the long-term. ¦

About the authors

Alicia Lacal Molina and Ulrik von Estorff, The Institute for Energy and Transport of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, Petten, Netherlands. This article was originally published in the January 2014 edition of Nuclear Engineering International magazine.

Figure 2
Table 1
Figure 1
Table 2

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