The Future of Education: Centres of Vocational Excellence (COVE) and Project TalentJourney

The traditional model of education has remained largely unchanged since the 19th century. Two of the most unusual and stressful school years in recent history has just passed. COVID 19 has disrupted the education for a generation of young students, educators and parents. Learners turned to digital technologies to fill in the gap. Technology was already set to play a mayor role in the education’s future, but the pandemic has kicked this transition into high gear. The exciting new ways to learn have often showed how limited technology cantered approaches can be. Technology can change the ways of learning forever and we need to learn how we can use it and manipulate it to our advantage. Human connections and interactions are at the heart of the education at this time it has become abundantly clear that the role of a teacher in the school community is irreplaceable.

Project TalentJourney addresses the rapid changes in educational needs of the modern society and developments in the industry and the skill gaps that follow them. Before the final conference of the project we spoke with some of the stakeholders of the project and with the representative of the European Commission who share their thoughts on the issues connected to the European Commission’s COVE initiative and the results of the international project TalentJourney, which was co-funded by Erasmus + programme of the European Union. All the speakers are actively dedicated to bringing education processes in EU onto higher level.

  • What is the European Commission’s view on VET education and what is the COVE initiative?

Mr João Santos, Senior expert in the Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs, and Inclusion at the European Commission:

»We are going through transformational moment due to the big objectives of Green and Digital Transition on the European level and we have to make sure that the education system is fit for the purpose in the sense that it’s empowering people, both young people in the sense that they are acquiring qualifications to enter the labour market as well as the upskilling and reskilling of adults. We need to make sure that we not only have big ambitions in terms of the Green and Digital transition, but that we also have the policy orientations and the financial mechanisms to support this transition. Nothing happen without people with the right qualifications, the right skills and therefore we can not only limit ourselves to this big ambitions, but also have the education system, in particular the VET education system, that is in tune with what are the social and economic realities throughout Europe and which is capable of delivering. The COVE initiative aims to support the social partners, the VET providers, the member states in this process of modernisation. We need to ensure that we have a VET system that is robust and resilient and capable to responding to rapid changes. We have, with the support of the Parliament and the member states secured 400 million Euro to support this initiative in the next seven years and I’m happy to provide you with more details on what we are trying to do later on.«

  • How are VET providers dealing with these rapid changes?

Mr Matti Isokallio, President of EUproVET, Director of the Educational Federation, Sataedu:

»We are the tool for our students and the tool for the industry. In some sense we also need to be a beacon for the future. We VET providers have a huge responsibility to support our learners, both adults and the young, and especially the workers, the companies, the enterprises in our own areas, to enable them to modernise and have the right skills and knowledge for the future.«

  • Project TalentJourney aims to create new perspectives and ways in learning; how will it achieve that?

Ms Adriana Hodak, Head of Intercompany Training Centre Nova Gorica:

»The main aim of TalentJourney is to find a way to modernise the VET education and ways to learn very holistically which means we need to change and transform concurrently the ways we learn, ways we teach, and ways we organise and collaborate with the companies and other VET stakeholders. That’s why in TalentJourney we started with the learning process, with completely updating new skills in the field of IoT, AI, robotics, data science, process production development and when we prepared this new contents we began to deal with how we are going to approach the learners together with other stakeholders. This was a discussion about completely new approaches and innovative ways. Another matter is the organisational aspect: if we are going to move forward in a completely different way with completely new content, we also need to consider new organisational approaches. This is what we have piloted now. I think we achieved very good results with how the users accepted this new ways, contents and organisation. «

  • Mr Saksida, your School Centre is one of the partners of project TalentJourney; what can you tell us about challenges that await your School Centre in the future?

Mr Milan Saksida, Director of School Centre Nova Gorica:

»We were the lead partner of this project, which involved over ten partners. During the project we somehow narrowed the skill gaps in manufacturing sector by connecting educational institutions to industry of today and tomorrow. We created a real ecosystem that benefits learners, teachers, companies and European society at the same time. We can say that we overcome many obstacles and I can also say that we were very successful in changing the way of teaching and learning. We piloted courses in fields of Robotics, IoT, AI, we prepared many things to reform education not only in our own schools but also in Europe and widely in the world. We changed the traditional way of teaching to more user-oriented approach. In the future we plan to continue to expand the collaboration in COVE projects and we are trying to improve the TalentJourney platform for supporting new education systems in Europe. Our main goal is to change the education system in the whole world, not only in Europe. «

  • Pogorelčnik, what are your views on the future of education, how is School Centre Velenje preparing for it?

Mr Janko Pogorelčnik, Director of School Centre Velenje:

»Our School Centre is one of the biggest school centres in Slovenia. We are in Šaleška dolina dolina and Savinjska-Šaleška (SA-ŠA) region and in the next years our region is going to be reconstructed in significant ways; there will be changes in companies, therefore we must adapt our education too. We have been preparing for the future challenges, including ones that have been exposed in the project TalentJourney. Artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, production processes and data bases, soft skills and green technology are the areas that will prevail in the future. We believe we can count on the assistance from the companies to jointly improve the education in these areas. «

  • Sorin, your company have decided to take part in this project. What is your company expecting from educational institutions and collaboration in this project?

Ms Iris Sorin, HR marketing at MAHLE:


»Mahle’s leading international partner of the automotive industry as well as a pioneer and technology driver for mobility of the future. Companies should put more focus on the education system; this is really something where we can see a lot of lack at the moment, especially in the technological fields like electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, software engineering, hardware engineering – all kinds of technological fields should be better educated; that would mean a better future not just for MAHLE but for all the companies in Slovenia. We are in the middle of transformation of the automotive sector – everything is geared towards e-mobility, which means our investments are strongly related to e-mobility which reflects in the need for a workforce educated in this area. I hope that in the future we will continue as an associated partner and exchange and cooperation will bring real benefits to development of this TalentJourney platform. We can see a bright future for such platform. «

  • Will European Commission support such projects in the future?

Mr João Santos, Senior expert in the Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs, and Inclusion at the European Commission:

»Definitely yes. I would like to take the opportunity to thank partners of TalentJourney because they were ambitious in their faith when we were still developing the concept of Centres of Vocational Excellence. We launched a pilot project, so we were not completely sure how the concept should be designed so we had a pilot project to understand how vocational centre and companies saw their needs of responding to this big challenges and we translated this into practice.  We use projects like TalentJourney to see how the people are understanding the challenges ahead, how can we design the program which responds to what we stakeholders at the ground need, companies need, vocational centres need, regional development authorities – how can we help? And TalentJourney two years ago was ambitious enough to come up with a consortium of committed people that were willing to test this and to work and to give to an extent a guidance towards how we can better design a project and just to tell the initiative on centres of vocational excellence benefiting from this kind of expertise, of people that really know what is needed on the ground we developed the concept further and then we also presented it to the member states, to the Council of the EU, also at the EU parliament.

They liked the  idea so much that they gave us 400 million EUR as I said at the beginning to further invest into this initiative because it is considered one of the ways forward, because, maybe for the first time, we are not only focusing on one particular aspect – and a lot of funding that we had in the past is for example focusing on quality assurance, there would be a project about quality assurance; if there were a programme on apprenticeship, there would be a specific project on apprenticeship. This initiative of COVE tries to look in a very comprehensive way on all the learning process and how we should connect with the society around us. That’s why we’ve got a set of activities which we propose as a model that are clustered in 3 big themes: the first theme is on teaching and learning – how can we modernise the teaching and learning process? The second one is establishing partnerships at the local level with partners so that the VET centre in Nova Gorica is working with companies, with regional authorities to try to understand where we need to go for strategic development of a region and what do we need to do, how we should modernise the VET system in order to respond to those challenges. So, there are tree aspects – modernisation of teaching and learning, cooperation with companies and governance and funding. We always must think about the sustainability of the project we launched, think of the day after what will happen when the project finishes.

In the next seven years we intend to launch calls every single year. We already launched one this year and we are going to launch another one at the end of the year. Adriana Hodak and the rest of the partners in project TalentJourney could unfortunately only count on the one million EUR for this project lasting 2 years. Now we identified that this is not enough, so all the future calls will be Eu funding of grant up to 4 million EUR and projects lasting 4 years. This will be, I think, a model for next seven years, so substantial funding and giving the partners more time to create these partnerships and also supporting them with support services with technical expertise that will allow this projects to talk to each other and exchange experiences with possibilities to adapt them to local conditions.«

  • How can a company or a school cooperate with the project and what they can expect from this cooperation?

Ms Adriana Hodak, Head of Intercompany Training Centre Nova Gorica::

»The TalentJourney platform is open to partners and all stakeholders, for example for companies, for research institutions, for Chambers, and actually already new partners are joining. They can collaborate in many ways – the companies represent a kind of pool, a kind of opportunities for learners where they can actually work together, are a ways of mentoring for adult learners, way of on-the-job training in the way of developing some innovative ideas together, looking for the solutions together for everyday challenges; when involving the companies inside the TalentJourney platform they shape their future working force, which is today in the time of lack of working force very important, in particular with the lack of working force with the appropriate knowledge and skills. That kind of collaboration can bring companies towards further sustainability. «

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