Revising what a Lifelong Learning system should prioritise – Identify key competences

  • There is a worldwide shared agreement that we are facing a paradigm shift from initial education systems to Lifelong Learning systems. We are convinced that people should be provided with the necessary competences to be able to upskill and navigate evolving careers for their whole lives. Europe has spent significant resources in developing frameworks conceptualizing key competences and life competences e.g. Lifecomp (Sala et al., 2020), Entrecomp (Bacigalupo et al., 2016), Digicomp (Vuorikari et al., 2022), etc.
  • At the same time, we have not been bold enough to bring real change to how we structure initial education. Most systems are still based on early and rigid student tracking, which mimics the current structure of the labour market, linking qualifications to existing occupations and pre-determining what place in society children will have as soon as they are 12 or 13 years old. There are a number of policies and tools (e.g. educational pathways, upskilling opportunities, validation of informal and nonformal learning) that have been developed to reduce this effect and provide opportunities for individuals for upgrading their qualifications. But the reality is that we do not put enough effort into providing all students with the key competences that are the real drivers for lifelong learning. The priority remains subject-based study and learning outcomes on which students are assessed to specific standards of knowledge and expertise. We are aware that students possess different key competences but instead of addressing this unbalance we use it to track students in different study programmes.
  • There are two reasons for reversing the current logic and making a stronger effort in providing students with comparable key competences. The first is more idealistic and refers to providing real equitable education and “at least comparable” opportunities to all students. There might be some political bias here. There is no second reason. Economy does generate a continuous evolution of occupations, and this outdates the current objective of education of providing qualifications relevant for the labour market. Continuous upskilling is becoming inevitable in all sectors. If we do not provide students with the key competences necessary to engage in it, the skills gap will continue to be a significant mark of the European Labour market: more than 1 million unmet job offers in 2021 as EC study (Temussi, 2022). Evidence demonstrates that below tertiary educational attainment people just do not engage in continuing training.
  • There is a third reason why key competences should become a priority in initial education. It is not directly related to how the labour market works but more about what our society does, or to a certain extent is failing to do. It is a package of key competences linked to active citizenship. We could single out one as an example: in a world of infinite information the capacity of individuals to assess the sources and become unbiased and active members of society is becoming an essential trait for democracies.


Bacigalupo, M., Kampylis, P., Punie, Y., Brande, G. V. den, European Commission, & Joint Research Centre. (2016). EntreComp: the entrepreneurship competence framework. Publications Office. 

Sala, A., Punie, Y., Garkov, V., Cabrera, M., European Commission, & Joint Research Centre. (2020). LifeComp: the European Framework for personal, social and learning to learn key competence. 

Temussi, M. (2022, April 6). Alliance Summit 2022 – presentation within the session: Ideas on strategies to develop products and opportunities within the tvet alliance [Speech]. 

Platforms of skills ecosystems: a Lifelong learning system model in which TVET can lead local communities to achieving the SDG’s
Filippo Del Ninno
Giovani Crisonà