MAKING AN IMPACT ON EUROPEAN AND INTERNATIONAL EMPLOYMENT
1AQUALEX Multimedia Consortium Ltd, Dublin, Ireland
In 2012, an important Horizon 2020 Initiative was launched with the aim of building a
bridge between labour markets and the world of education and training. The ESCO
(European Skills/Competences Qualifications and Occupations) EU 2020 Initiative,
formally launched in Brussels in October 2012, consists of three pillars: skills,
occupations, and qualifications. Though ESCO is part of the Employment, Social
Affairs and Inclusion Directorate, it impinges on EU education issues because it links
job descriptions/occupations to their knowledge, skills, and competences and thus
qualifications. ESCO will certainly make a significant impact on the whole of European
industry. Thereby hangs a tale worth telling in this 40th EAS Anniversary Conference.
The European aquaculture industry had been aware of what the Blue Careers Call (2016)
describes as “the mismatch between the knowledge and skills acquired by graduates as
part of their academic qualification, and what the industry itself expects of job-seeking
graduates in terms of essential knowledge, skills and competences”. In 2003 the industry,
both as individual companies and as FEAP members, became engaged in the
LEONARDO da VINCI WAVE (Working in Aquaculture Validation of Experience)
project. Its contribution to the efforts required both to identify clearly and describe
precisely the range and scope of the knowledge, skills and competences needed for jobs
in aquaculture was invaluable and much appreciated. AQUATT, working closely with
FEAP, selected and refined the large amount of information gained from visits to 90
farms in 10 European countries and produced the WAVE Master List of Competencies.
Impacts at EU level
It is gratifying to put on the record that this diligent groundwork has made a notable and
lasting impact at the EU level and not merely as a footnote in the Blue Careers Call
(2016) referring to WAVE’s successful bottom-up approach which had resulted in the
aquaculture Master List of skills and competencies. On a different scale is its
contribution to the ESCO 2020 Initiative, jointly created by European and national
stakeholders. Now at https://ec.europa.eu/esco/portal/home, ESCO is the outcome of
years of sustained efforts from its 28 Reference Groups who had to produce occupational
profiles for all sectors of European industry. Their remit was “to set out European job
descriptions (otherwise occupational profiles) in terms of essential knowledge, skills and
competences and furthermore to list the related learning outcomes”. The aquaculture
industry was included in the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Reference Group
(AGRI), one of the first four ‘guinea pig’ (their word) Reference Group set up in 2010.
Aquaculture had already come up with the 248 items of the Aquaculture Master List,
already agreed and accepted by both industry and academia. Its representative was thus
able from the outset to produce an exhaustive list of KSC, along with their associated
Learning Outcomes. We were also able to show other group members without similar
detailed and relevant information, how this model of good practice had been obtained.
Yet another ESCO aim, to include Learning Outcomes “in order to help the process of
cross-border recognition of qualifications”, had been met within the online WAVE
Master List, which also contained information concerning the European Qualification
Framework level of each item on the List.
Transfer of methodology
The WAVE partnership had ensured that all potential users and beneficiaries knew and
understood all the possible uses of the Online Master List of Competences, by publishing
a 4-page Guidelines Handbook “What can WAVE do for You?” It directly addressed
potential users, i.e., employers and managers, education and training providers,
regulatory and awarding bodies, students and other individuals such as jobseekers. The
WAVE Guidelines were made available to the AGRI Reference Group and the ESCO
Secretariat as part of the aquaculture contribution. Again, it is worth noting that the
ESCO Press Releases and website have employed a similar strategy, directly asking
potential users the question (though perhaps less elegantly than WAVE) and provided
answers that are strikingly similar, though in less detail than in the Guidelines.
What can a skills, competences, qualifications and occupations taxonomy be used for?
Jobseekers can use it to describe their skill set when developing a CV, that can then be
easily used for various automatic matching purposes;
Employers can use it to define a set of skills and competences required when they are
developing a job description to be advertised with public or other employment services;
Learners can use it to build personal skill profiles and to record their learning outcomes;
Bodies developing and/or awarding qualifications can use it to express learning
outcomes in more operational terms;
Education and training institutions can use it to improve planning and curriculum
development related to emerging skill needs, and to facilitate the recognition of foreign
Human resource managers and guidance providers can use it to enhance planning and
enrich aptitude or ability tests, skills, and interest inventories or tools.
Inevitably, the construction of the very large database needed to house all European job
descriptions, in terms of knowledge, skills and competences, along with their associated
learning outcomes, has necessitated a certain degree of amalgamation and simplification.
Nevertheless most of WAVE’s original KSC descriptions have survived, along with the
occupational functions and profiles, which have subsequently been rigorously tested
against current job descriptions. Aquaculture industry experts were consulted at every
stage in the long drawn-out process of compiling the ESCO database and their responses,
always swift, cogent and professional, provided an invaluable additional resource.
ESCO’s aims at its outset in 2010 were indeed ambitious: “ESCO has the potential to
become the standard that will bring closer together the separated worlds of employment
and education. ESCO could indeed replace or complement existing national or
international as well as sectoral occupational classifications.” However they now sound
far more achievable, even, perhaps especially, in today’s harsh economic climate. It is
heartening as well as satisfying, to note, at the 40th Anniversary of the EAS International
Conference, that the work of all our members, academics as well as industrialists, has
been acknowledged and will remain as part of future employment governance in the
European Union. That is a positive and measurable impact that has been worthwhile.