Platforms of Centres of Vocational Excellence

Fostering “Skills ecosystems” for innovation, regional development, and smart specialisation

João Santos

Deputy Head of Unit, Directorate General for Employment, Social Affair, and Inclusion, European Commission

UNDERSTANDING CHANGE - We live in interesting times

WHAT IS VOCATIONAL EXCELLENCE – empowering people with skills for life

The combined effects of rapid technological change, digitalization, climate change, circular economy, and new forms of work, call for innovative ideas to ensure that Vocational training not only adapts to change, but is also at the forefront of mastering and driving this change. These developments are not only disrupting every aspect of work and life, but also creating opportunities for innovation and employment creation across all sectors. The capacity to innovate is increasingly becoming the key factor driving economic and social development.

VET policy makers are confronted with new challenges in anticipating and responding in due time to the fast changing skill needs of the labour market, and to the expectations of individuals. The “shelf-life” of skills is becoming increasingly short. To address this challenge, VET institutions must become much more flxible and responsive to the need for renewing their offer, companies have to become an active partner in designing and providing opportunities for work-based learning, and individuals have to embrace lifelong learning to maintain their employability, active citizenship and quality of life. The way we teach and learn has to be in tune with these new opportunities and challenges.

Developments in the VET system have been mainly of a gradual and incremental nature, and in most cases driven top-down. Business-as-usual may not be a viable option for the future. The speed and scale of change calls for innovative approaches where VET institutions are empowered to understand, engage and be an active partner in co-creating solutions for local social and economic development. A bottom-up approach where VET institutions are capable of rapidly adapting skills provision to evolving local needs, is essential to raise the attractiveness, relevance and quality in VET. The new paradigm for VET institutions is local in its nature, while the challenges they are facing is increasingly complex and global.

VET Excellence ensures high quality skills and competences that lead to quality employment and career-long opportunities, which meet the needs of an innovative, inclusive and sustainable economy. 

The concept of vocational excellence that is proposed is characterised by a holistic learner centred approach in which VET:

  1. Is an integrative part of skills ecosystems, contributing to regional development, innovation, and smart specialisation strategies
  2. Is part of knowledge triangles, working closely with other education and training sectors, the scientific ommunity, and business
  3. Enables learners to acquire both vocational and key competences4 through high-quality provision that is underpinned by quality assurance, builds innovative forms of partnerships with the world of work, and is supported by the continuous professional development of teaching and training staff, innovative pedagogies, mobility and internationalisation strategies.


When discussing innovation, reference is often made to the “knowledge triangle” – a link between businesses, education and research. In this context, education is often understood as academic higher education, with VET playing a marginal role, and quite often being neglected. However, VET has an important role to play in the “knowledge triangle”, as well as in “smart specialisation” strategies that lead to sustainable growth, innovation, job creation and social cohesion.

Some Member States have launched successful initiatives aiming at Vocational excellence, and include VET as part of their innovation strategies. However, these are still rare exceptions, and progress has been uneven throughout Europe.

At a European cooperation level, we are missing an initiative that brings a holistic approach to vocational excellence. Instead, specific piorities and actions have been put in place, such as the European Alliance for Apprenticeships, the Pact for Youth, the strong support for VET mobility, as well as the development of tools for quality assurance and credit systems in VET. All these actions certainly contribute to increase the quality and excellence in VET, but in isolation they do not constitute a comprehensive approach to Vocational Excellence. 

This initiative responds to this challenge, and introduces a “European dimension” to Vocational Excellence by supporting the development of Centres of Vocational Excellence, operating at two levels:

  • National: in a given local context, embedding Centres of Vocational Excellence closely in the local innovation ecosystems, and connecting them at European level
  • Transnational: through Platforms of Centres of Vocational Excellence to establish world-class reference points for vocational training by bringing together CoVE`s that share a common interest in specific setors/ trades (e.g. aeronautics, e-mobility, green technologies, ICT, healthcare, etc.) or innovative approaches to tackle societal challenges (e.g. integration of migrants, Digitalisation, Artificial Inelligence Sustainable Development Goals, upskilling people with low qualifiation levels, etc.).

The platforms will either bring together existing CoVE’s in different countries, or expand the model by linking well-established CoVE’s in one country with partners in other countries, that intend to develop CoVE’s in their local eco-system.

The transnational collaborative platforms, aim for “upward convergence” of excellence in VET, which would be difficulto establish in isolation in the absence of EU incentives, technical support, and mutual learning opportunities. The platforms will be open for the involvement of countries with well-developed vocational excellence systems, as well as those in the process of developing similar approaches, aimed at exploring the full potential of VET institutions to play a proactive role in support of growth, competitiveness and innovation.

Platforms of Centres of Vocational excellence are not intended to build new VET institutions and infrastructure from scratch (although it may also require this type of investment). Instead they aim to bring together a set of local/regional partners such as Initial and continuing VET providers, tertiary education institutions including universities of applied sciences and polytechnics, research institutions, science parks, companies, chambers and their associations, social partners, sectoral skills councils, Professional/sector associations, national and regional authorities and development agencies, public employment services, etc. 

  • A recent mapping exercise of some of the most effective existing CoVE´s in Europe, showed that Anchored into frameworks of regional development, innovation and smart specialisation – allows for the identifiction of synergies between policies and amongst stakeholders, avoiding ad-hoc actions
  • Strong and enduring partnerships – between the VET community, businesses and universities in which interactions are reciprocal and mutually beneficial
  • Integration of activities – CoVEs achieve more than sum of the parts

Features that characterise the CoVE´s include a set of some of activities and services that can be broadly grouped under the following 3 clusters:

  1. Teaching and learning,
  2. Cooperation and partnerships, and
  3. Governance and funding.

The CoVE´s could build synergies with other relevant EU initiatives, such as the Blueprint for sectoral skills and Sector skills alliances that work on related activities such as understanding future skill needs and occupational profiles andtranslating them to qualifiction profile.

EU SUPPORT FOR THE PLATFORMS OF COVE´S – Upward convergence of VET excellence

The full implementation of the initiative requires resources that are currently not available. Therefore, on 30 May 2018, the Commission adopted its proposal for the next Erasmus programme 2021-2027, which under the title “Partnerships for Excellence”, includes funding for Centres of vocational excellence.

In the future programming period 2021-2027 Erasmus funding, could (where appropriate) be complemented by other EU funds for investments into research and infrastructure, for instance applied research projects, IT technology, machinery, robots, investments in premises or other tangible assets, such as building up of business incubators.

Actions to prepare the initiative are already taking place. In the short term (2019-2020) the initiative can be piloted through support from the current Erasmus+ programme:

  • In the 2019 Erasmus+ Work Programme, the Commission launched a limited pilot project under Sector Skills Alliances (SSA) with a budget of €6 million to support a first set of up to 6 projects running for 2 years. These still had a restricted focus on sectoral skills approaches.
  • In the 2020 Erasmus+ Work Programme, the Commission will propose a specific call for a second set of pilot projects to establish Platforms of CoVE´s with a budget of €20 million to support 5 projects that closely resemble the future model that will be supported in the next Erasmus programme. The design of this call will incorporate some key elements identified fom the 2019 pilot project proposals.

The Evaluation Committee, has concluded the analysis of the 2019 pilot project applications. The results are very encouraging with high demand for the initiative. Although this first pilothad limited resources to finane a maximum of 6 projects, we received 15 applications with a budget demand of over €13 million. The projects included partners from all EU countries, except HU and LU, and also from one candidate country. Up to 177 organizations were involved in these applications, with an average of 12 partners per project. Partners were mostly VET centres (both upper secondary, as well as tertiary level Universities of applied sciences), Centres for adult training, regional development agencies, SMEs, Chambers and Social partners.

On 25 July 2019, EACEA published the results of the first Easmus+ call. The first 5 oVE pilot projects selected are:

  1. Digital innovation Hub for Cloud Based Services, led by Helsinki Business College, in Finland
  2. European Open Design School for Sustainable Regional Development, led by Fondazione Matera-Basilicata 2019, in Italy
  3. Excellent advanced manufacturing 4.0, led by TKNIKA, in Spain
  4. Pilot Platform of Vocational Excellence Water, led by Freisland College, in The Netherlands
  5. Talentjourney – Platform for CDS VET Excellence, led by Solski center Nova Gorica, in Slovenia

CONCLUDING REMARKS – Be the change you want to see

I would like to conclude by challenging CECIMO to capitalise on its experience of running successful Erasmus projects, and be part of this paradigm shift we want to support through the initiative on Centres of Vocational Excellence.

CECIMO is in a unique position to support the European Machine Tool Industries and related Manufacturing Technologies, in ensuring the provision of the current and future skills, that they need to innovate, and increase their competitiveness and growth.

Building on its extensive network of National Associations of machine tool builders, which represent approximately 1300 industrial enterprises in Europe covering 98% of total Machine Tool production in Europe and about 36% worldwide, I would like to invite CECIMO and its members to closely analyse the next Erasmus call that we expect to publish in October 2019, and bring together the right partners willing to apply for EU support to establish a successful Platform of Vocational Excellence for your sector.


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