As boundaries blur between formal, non-formal and informal education and training and new actors take to the stage, the moment has come to create synergy between institutions from all these sides, said Siria Taurelli, Senior Specialist in Governance and Lifelong Learning at the ETF, in the Role of Actors in Lifelong Learning (LLL) Systems session. 

Appropriately for an arena where, as Taurelli pointed out, there are often no curricula or standard learning plans, the session drew strongly on practical initiatives. 

Entela Kaleshi of the Albania Institute for Change and Leadership, sketched the transformation of traditional farming into agro-tourism. This meant not only technical skills acquisition but also new social skills. 

Kaleshi said that because civil society organisations (CSOs) are frequently close to the needs of people, they can give voice to the excluded on crucial issues like skills development and employment. 

“There is a strong need for civil society to take part in the defining and implementation of lifelong learning policies, in particular non-formal and informal learning as well as skills development.” 

CSOs bring soft skills and advocacy and activities, and, as she put it, “They bring you.” 

Sladjana Milojevic, Director of the Fashion Apparel Clothing Textile Cluster in Serbia (FACTS), outlined how, through a co-operative effort between educational institutions and employers, the sector developed LLL partnerships to revitalise old jobs, upgrade youth skill levels, and improve competitiveness. The aim was to rescue a faltering “old textile” sector that was not attractive to young work-seekers, who instead were going abroad to seek employment. 

The outcome has been to catapult the industry beyond its national borders into a global creative success story, encompassing 21 fashion apparel companies, 24 fashion brands, and 400 stores. And now the young people are staying! 

In both cases, pointed out Taurelli, the key has been “to give voice to needs that otherwise may have remained unheard”. It has been due to the ability of actors – CSOs, businesses and educational institutions – to bridge policy and implementation. This has also brought groups at risk of exclusion, such as youth and those living in rural communities, to a positive transition towards better income generation opportunities. 

As challenging as implementing new approaches, is finding the wherewithal to do so. 

promising route, the Social Impact Bond, was detailed by Fanny Broussan, Project Manager of Partnerships at the public employment service, Actiris, in Brussels. In essence, private funds are channelled via a public institution to finance an innovative social project by an outside service provider; the effectiveness of implementation is independently evaluated and if successful, the investors receive their capital back with interest. If not, the investment is not repaid. 

Although, in the experience of Actiris, this has so far been “the perfect partnership”, it has demanded “a complete change of mindset” by the participants, says Broussan. 

“It’s about co-construction, not the kind of top-down construction that the public sector is more accustomed to.” 

Another instrument that could be tested in future are the Individual Learning Accounts that would link learning entitlements to a person’s “right to lifelong learning” throughout her working life. 

The importance of relationships between the major actors was highlighted by one in-progress country case in Palestine. 

Nidal Ayesh, TVET expert and Coordinator of the Skills Development Fundin Palestine, described the difficulties experienced over five months to going beyond the dialogue stage to reach an agreement and reinforce trust among multiple actors. 

“One must accept. It can't be done in a hurry. It’s a gradual process, not a 'one-shot 'one.”

“The time dedicated to the process was worth investing and a true lesson learned from the past.” 

Silviu Gincu, Head of TVET Department in the Ministry of education, Culture and Research in the Republic of Moldova, commented that as muh as financial resources it is vital to mobilise people’s capacities, expertise as well as motivation for lifelong learning. 

In the open debate, Ahmed El-Ashmawi , speaking from Egypt, challenged the CSOs to “come out of their comfort zone of doing what they know and expand and think bigger” to forge collaborations in a more formal and institutional manner. “Comfort zones pertain to all actors including public institutions and private sectors” added Mounir Baati, ETF, “and they are one of the elements that slow down the change”. 

Participants at the session summed up the major take-outs: the importance of partnerships, of alignment to goals, of new ideas, of open dialogue, and of the role of the private sector in lifelong learning. 

Taurelli, in her summing up the session, said that lifelong learning is first of all about partnerships, and they require a design. Partnership cannot be improvised — there must be an intention behind it. 

“The second point about partnerships is that they can forge new practices and can consolidate capacities. So when we get a project, let's sustain it to make it a real partnership to forge new practices. 

"A third point about partnerships is that, in lifelong learning, the partnership will involve both state and non-state actors. And with that, we also include non-conventional actors that normally are not always included in policy thinking. 

“With that, we lay conditions for a higher level of outcomes. This was an important question in our session: what are these outcomes? We have to aim high – high in terms of quality of skills for people and sustainable benefits in terms of equity, fairness and good quality employment.” 

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