Would you live in an area with no electricity? With no public transportation? With no broadband connection? Probably not, at least not if you had a choice. Yet, individuals in some of the most deprived rural communities in Europe need to cope with these and other difficulties in their daily lives. What’s more, they also need to find jobs.

Yesterday, during a public hearing held by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), Volonteurope presented evidence and recommendations on vocational education and training (VET) in rural and remote areas. The Committee is currently preparing an own-initiative opinion on the issue.

Read Volonteurope’s speech to the EESC (PDF).

Part of the information presented by Volonteurope at the hearing was provided by members and partners engaged with our ongoing campaign on the Rural Isolation of Citizens in Europe. The Committee’s opinion is expected to inform European debates and policy in education and training in rural areas.

Concerns over depopulation, social exclusion and lack of skills in many rural regions in Europe led members of the Committee to seek contributions from civil society, education providers and the European Commission on possible ways to tackle these issues.

Volonteurope was asked to contribute to the session on Developing Skills for Employment in Rural and Remote Areas. In tune with our campaign, we emphasised the need for an integrated approach to rural development, one that takes into account the importance of local action and local capital.

See Volonteurope’s policy brief on the Rural Isolation of Citizens in Europe.

Rural areas have largely lagged behind urban ones in employment levels, skills development, educational attainment and wellbeing. Education and training have a crucial role in improving the quality of life of rural populations. They can potentially lead individuals to further education or employment.

However, VET in rural areas has not lived up to the challenges. Many existing schemes lack the necessary quality or relevance. Often, linkages to the labour market and local industries are thin or inexistent. Add to this poor basic education in rural areas in Eastern and Southern Europe, and you end up with the damaging effect of unemployment and hopelessness.

With these challenges in mind, Volonteurope put forward the following arguments at the hearing:

  • Rural areas need a comprehensive set of measures to boost skills, employability and wellbeing of individuals in rural communities. These measures include investment in early education, ICT education, infrastructure (transportation and broadband connectivity), support for locally-driven action, adequate funding for local initiatives, and partnerships between employers and education and training providers.
  • Pupils and trainees need to have access to a combination of citizenship education and training for the labour market. Vocational programmes have to be tailored to local rural contexts and local industries. There is a strong need for focusing on the relevance of skills and the quality of education and training.
  • Economic diversification can be a powerful way to increase the skills base and employability of rural workforces. Off-farm jobs can offer higher income levels and stimulus for further education and training. Measures are needed to make rural regions more attractive to investment. Advice, technical assistance and financing to small enterprises, including social enterprises, are crucial.
  • The voluntary sector has an important role to play in developing skills in rural areas, especially by engaging young people in volunteering opportunities and mobility projects.
  • Skills and knowledge acquired through volunteering and other forms of informal or non-formal learning need to be proper validated and recognised by governments, employers, education providers and the EU. Validation and recognition will open up opportunities to individuals, especially those from a more disadvantaged background.
  • Interventions on education and training need to be targeted to local needs. This requires local partnerships between communities, civil society, education providers, the private and the public sectors.
  • Governments need to play an enabling role and allow communities to take ownership of local initiatives. Communities, voluntary organisations and civil society need adequate funding and support to implement projects that increase skills and employability in rural areas.

Other speakers at the hearing stressed the importance of investing in digital technology and training, broadband connectivity and the qualification of teaching staff.

In terms of European rural policy, Volonteurope calls on member states, local governments and the EU to step up efforts to make Community-Led Local Development (which replaces LEADER) a viable tool for local development. In particular, we call the relevant actors to address issues of bureaucracy, complex funding instruments and unused funds. Where ESIF local partnerships are dominated by large business interests or are unresponsive to rural needs, further efforts are needed to include communities in their strategic decision-making process.

Finally, Volonteurope calls for adequate support and funding to the voluntary sector, which has an enormous contribution to make in training and skills development in urban and rural areas.

On 26 March Volonteurope and its members and partners will be hosting the seminar “Rural Isolation of Citizens in Europe: Evidence from the Baltic States”, in Riga, Latvia.

Stay in touch to learn more about this event and our campaign.

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