DRIVES Project interviews Portuguese Minister for Labour on the importance of education & training for the automotive workforce
Protecting jobs has been a priority for the EU and its Member States. Towards this end, the EU has established strategies and schemes to support the automotive industry in coping with changes in competencies, while at the national level, Portugal has launched a new scheme to help the unemployed and promote apprenticeships, and has allocated funds under its national recovery plan.
In this interview by the EU-funded project DRIVES, Portuguese Minister of Labour, Solidarity and Social Security Ana Mendes Godinho shares her views on the importance of the European blueprints, particularly in the current situation, in guaranteeing that the education and training sector swiftly meet the automotive ecosystem’s skills’ needs.
How important is the automotive sector for Portuguese economy and job market and how do you see it evolving in the next decade?
This industry accounts for millions of jobs in the EU and across the globe, with a significant weight in the job world. Although Portugal represents a small part of the production of vehicles in the EU, the automobile sector is a strategic sector for the Portuguese economy and it has demonstrated a strong dynamism in the last years, as shown by the increase in vehicles produced, jobs and exports. The auto parts industry has also registered an equally important increase in jobs, investment and exports in the last years. Other European countries (like Spain, Germany and France) are a destination for Portuguese exports.
We recognise the many challenges the industry is facing, with the centre of gravity changing both geographically as well as in terms of new technologies, business models, and demographic shifts, ageing workforce and trade turbulence. New technologies and trends result from stricter emission standards and decarbonisation, as well as new mobility concepts, leading to expanding green and digital economies.
These ongoing trends are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, mainly due to a significant drop in demand and investment. Recent work challenges are linked to pressure on both quantity and quality of the employment in the sector, particularly in relation to unprotected workers.
Decarbonisation, electrification, hydrogen technology and digitalisation are future challenges for the automotive ecosystem. What is the EU strategy to support the automotive industry cope with changes in competences need?
Rapid development of technologies used in the automotive sector (e.g. connected, automation, battery technologies) will require much more regular upskilling – the “half-life” of skills in the automotive sector is estimated to be only 5 years (i.e. skills will only be as half as valuable/useful after 5 years).
The shift to e-mobility will require more highly skilled workers than needed for traditional internal combustion engine vehicles. While it’s likely there will be fewer jobs directly involved in vehicle manufacturing, many of them will be of higher quality. Opportunities arising from technological development to develop high quality jobs warrants due protection and investment in skills development in this sector e.g. batteries for e-mobility.
Ongoing transition offers new opportunities towards the expansion of sustainable green economy with the shift to e-mobility. Sharp increases in demand for electric vehicles paired with expected significant drop in demand for gasoline and diesel cars are likely to transform not only the industry but the whole concept of mobility altogether. We underline the importance of fostering policies that work, facilitate the transition, while protecting workers, jobs and sustainable enterprises.
Protecting workers in the workplace is fundamental, ensuring safe and healthy working conditions, taking account of all risks, including psychosocial ones. The industry should also provide for increased protection for workers particularly affected, including those in the informal economy, seasonal workers, temporary workers or the self-employed. Ensuring gender equality in the industry, including increasing the attractiveness of the sector for women and youth is also key. Also, robust and universal social protection including social protection floors, would go a long way to mitigate the impact on the most vulnerable groups,
including those in the informal economy.
Protecting jobs remains another priority for the EU and its Member States, in particular during the pandemic. Employment support schemes, such as EU’s SURE, youth employment supporting schemes or initiatives supporting SMEs, are all aimed at protecting jobs and mitigating the severely negative socio-economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
The transformation of the sector, further accelerated by the pandemic also provides us with a unique opportunity to ensure a just transition to a green economy. It should certainly shape the recovery plans, to ensure a better and sustainable future.
We consider social dialogue to be essential in anticipating and managing the changes needed to move forward. Social dialogue is needed at all levels, including at cross-border and company levels.
With the Presidency of the Council of the EU, what is Portugal doing to promote the skilling and re/upskilling of workers? How important is VET in that mix?
The European research, health and education systems must be prepared to fully rise to the challenge of technological and societal changes, including those related to digitalization, fostering innovation for growth and jobs, promoting research and innovation, improving health performance and investing in people’s skills and education, seeking synergies with the European scientific, research and innovation communities, with the aim of maximizing the full potential of research and innovation across the Union, in order to overcome the COVID-19 crisis.
In this regard, the Trio (presidencies of the Germany, Portugal and Slovenia) welcomes the Commission Communication on the future of research and innovation and the European Research Area, the updated Action Plan for Digital Education, the further development of the European Education Area, the new strategic framework of cooperation in the field of education and training and the updated Skills Agenda.
The experience gained from the challenges faced during the COVID-19 outbreak demonstrates that the fields of education, skills and research must be sufficiently flexible and resistant to interruptions in their regular cycles.
To exploit the potential of education, research and innovation for transformative solutions and for achieving the SDGs, a multi-level approach is needed to strategically focus the efforts of these policy areas at all levels in each sectoral initiative and integrate them at EU level into a common approach.
VET in particular is essential to respond to the challenges (i) of the rapidly outdated skills and the need for new skills for emerging professions; (ii) transitions in the labour market, increasingly frequent; and with less linear careers (iii) changes in the content of work and its organization.
For example, in Portugal, with ATIVAR.PT Employment we have implements measures regarding apprenticeships which value qualifications and have an increase in grants. Also, the ATIVAR.PT Incentive (replaces the Employment Contract) contemplates an increase of 33% in the support to be granted to companies that enter into employment contracts with unemployed persons registered with the Public Employment Service (Institute of Employment and Vocational Training). Included are bonuses for long-term unemployed, discouraged inactive, young people up to 29 and people aged 45 and over, and for informal caregivers or homeless people. Concerning Ativar.PT – Vocational Training: Improving the skills of the young and adult population is a structural priority in the country. Portugal has managed to achieve substantial progress in improving qualification levels, particularly in the younger generation, but the base is still low and there are significant inequalities between generations and even within the most qualified generation, young people. Practically 1/5 of young people under the age of 25 continue to enter the labour market without having completed secondary education. Portugal also has a shortage of qualified resources, particularly in emerging and strategic areas such as digital. So, we have the Young + Digital Program, designed for young adults, unemployed with secondary education level. The training courses are in the digital area, with a maximum duration of 300 hours, and were designed to respond to skills needs identified through listening to companies and specialists in the digital area. These courses are subject to certification within the scope of the National Qualifications System and, in parallel, some of the courses prepare trainees for exams and obtain additional specific certifications within the scope of reference academies in the digital area (eg Microsoft, CISCO).
Another example of a recent policy response to the digital challenge is the Upskills Program: The UPSkill – Digital Skills & Jobs Program started on June 22, 2020 the application process. This program is primarily aimed at the unemployed, with secondary education or higher education, that wish to obtain qualifications in the area of digital technologies. This initiative aims to meet the needs of companies with resources qualified in digital technologies and, simultaneously, provide the acquisition of technical skills, by unemployed or underemployed people, that allow them to start a new career. In this way it is possible to contribute to the increase of the competitiveness of the Country, which now has people with more qualifications and knowledge and companies more prepared for the market. The Program aims to provide them with intensive training (6 months) in specific areas covered by information and communication technologies, followed by 3 months of training in the workplace, in one of the participating companies.
In what format and with which instruments the recovery package can provide financial support to keeping the automotive sector competitive and with a skilled workforce? What is specifically foreseen for Portugal, namely on public funding for apprenticeships?
The National Recovery Plan contemplates in the Skills Component (C6) about 710 million euros to modernize the vocational education and training, give it credibility and quality, strengthening an integrated design of offers and updating skills through an investment of large-scale training for young generations in view of current professional practice requirements arising from the digital and energy transition of the economy; 225 million euros to Develop skills for innovation and industrial renewal through a series of investments in vocational education in the areas of industrial renewal; and 130 million euros to promote a recovery based on people and the modernization of the economy, through the teaching-learning in STEAM areas (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics), attracting more young people to higher education, especially young people from vocational pathways; and 230 million euros for the fight against segmentation and precariousness, assumed by the reform related to the Decent Work Promotion Agenda (RE-r17), included in component C6 – Qualifications and Skills, which is intended to promote collective bargaining, the enhancement of training and qualification, and the defence of adequate wages and decent income, ensured within the framework of social dialogue and concertation on which the practice of labour policy in Portugal is based. This reform will be complemented by an investment to support the creation of sustainable employment (RE-C06.i02) that allows, after the crisis, to provide a framework of stability in permanent employment relationships and encouraging the hiring of young people and setting adequate salary levels.
Human capital is the cornerstone for a prosperous economy. How do you see the education and training sector swiftly matching the automotive ecosystem skills needs for a flexible adaptation and preparedness of the sector?
In order to manage transitions and foster employment in the industry, we need to promote skills development and lifelong learning. We underline the need to ensure close co-operation between relevant partners to develop and maintain the necessary skills e.g. regions at global and local level, local authorities, universities & training institutes, automotive clusters, chambers of commerce, individual companies with significant training facilities. This is a key objective of the new Skills Pact for the automotive sector – the Automotive Skills Alliance.
We underscore that responding to skills mismatches also needs to be tackled at sectoral level, in particular for SMEs. Each sector will have its own skill needs and challenges. The automotive sector is one of the first industrial ecosystems, in the EU, to establish a Pact for Skills (November 2020) with the overall objective to reskill 700.000 workers each year. In addition, the EU has invested, through the blueprint for sectoral skill initiative, in developing a long-term strategy to tackle skill needs for the automotive sector generally (“DRIVES”) and the battery sector (“ALBATTS”) specifically. These blueprints will also support the automotive Pact.
We also underline the fundamental importance of life-long and inter-generational learning, vocational training and apprenticeship programmes, exemplified by the renewed European Alliance for Apprenticeships, as well as better consideration of innovative educational tools, in particular for distant learning and training.
In: CLEPA News, Growth & Competitiveness, Skills