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The Lifelong Learning was centred around six key messages: new basic skills for all, more investment in human resources, innovation in teaching and learning, valuing learning, rethinking guidance and counselling and bringing learning closer to home.
Related to these six messages, importance of issues like building a knowledge society for all, developing a culture of communication and learning, expanding leadership competencies and investing in partnerships is stressed.
1. Acquiring new basic skills for all
Basic skills are the competencies needed to work and live in the knowledge society. Numeracy, literacy, IT skills, foreign languages, entrepreneurship, technological culture, the ability to work in teams and personal skills are examples of key basic skills. The acquisition of basic skills by the current and future workforce is a major concern for the business community, which supports the development of skills of employees, but also of people outside the company, through co-operation with schools and training centres.
Companies are involved in a wide range of projects aimed at providing and improving basic skills.
These initiatives enable formal education systems to respond more accurately to business needs and therefore increase overall employability. Such projects often start with regular meeting between teachers and employers and lead to a joint agenda for action: including teacher placements in the company, business related curriculum development projects, student work experience and mentoring students and teachers or including head teachers by business people. Special attention is often given to disadvantaged groups (i.e. women after career breaks, immigrants, disabled, long-term unemployed, older workers) to facilitate their acquisition of basic skills
and to up- date of teachers' and trainers' competencies.
2. Investing in human resources
Employees' training and education is part of the mission statement of many companies. Learning is linked to career development plans, and companies use different ways to support their human resources development. Flexible working schedules are common to motivate lifelong learning, and in some cases career breaks are also possible. Companies often co-finance individual learning accounts or learning budgets for their employees.
Most large companies have their own training centre, or 'academy'. Specific training schemes and education awards within the company enable staff to acquire additional degrees or certificates. Some projects focus on training for employees requiring specific support, such as disabled persons or redundant employees. Several companies have projects investing in human resources in the local community. This is seen as a way to build solid relations with the community and help it to flourish, as well as an important investment in future potential employees. Many of these projects address the needs of disadvantaged groups such as long term unemployed, school drop-outs, and youngsters coming from difficult family situations, to improve their basic skills' level, enhance their employability and in some cases help them start their own business.
Most projects are promoted in co-operation with local public authorities, in the framework of EU funded initiatives, or through fund-raising activities of employees with matched funding by the company.
3. Innovating teaching and learning
Companies have traditionally shown considerable innovation in teaching and learning through a wide range of initiatives for employees. Many companies apply ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) to develop innovative learning packages accessible to employees at any time and from any location, enabling them to become more autonomous and responsible learners. Several web based training packages have been developed through co-operation between companies and universities or other training centres. Mobility of employees across countries, work shadowing, team work, the acquisition of a qualification on the job, are all innovative educational approaches put into practice by many companies. In some cases the training developed within a company is later accredited by universities and integrated into their courses. Some companies co-operate actively with universities and training institutes to develop new curricula.
Some companies also put expertise and other resources at the disposal of educational institutions and other community bodies. One of the benefits for companies is that involvement by their employees in such activities does contribute to their personal development and actually becomes a cost effective alternative to more formal training. Job rotation systems, dual learning systems and sandwich course training create learning opportunities for people outside companies, often within disadvantaged groups
Valuing learning is a key element in motivating individuals to keep updating and upgrading their skills.
Learning opportunities within a company are part of the benefits package offered by the company to its personnel. Tangible rewards resulting from lifelong learning are better career opportunities and salaries.Valuing learning is enhanced when training and education in companies lead to qualifications recognised
by the formal education systems. Documenting learning of employees through the use of professional portfolios or competence maps are useful means to enhance the valuing of education and favour mobility of employees across Europe.
5. Rethinking guidance and counselling
Companies provide guidance and counselling both to their employees for career development and to groups in the local community. For instance, to facilitate the transition from school to working life, companies provide counselling to students for future career options, including guidance for CV preparation and work interviews. In some cases, larger companies offer support to enhance entrepreneurial
skills of employees and other individuals who intend to set up their own company.
Companies use various tools as support to counselling and guidance. CSR Europe is currently developing an on-line self-assessment tool, the "Business Roadmap on Lifelong Learning", which aims to helping companies to map their projects in the field of lifelong learning, assess their performance against best practice and improve their educational policies making use of tailor-made guidelines.
6. Bringing learning closer to home
Bringing learning closer to home is perceived in different ways. The focus is on bringing learning as close as possible to the learner, be it at home or at work. Many initiatives set up by companies in recent years to bring learning closer to the learner are supported by new technologies, allowing employees to access innovative learning packages at any time and from any location.
Companies often co-operate with local authorities, educational and other associations to develop learning communities, a major innovative learning model promoting active learning. Such partnerships are based on the recognition of mutual needs to raise standards, modernise the curriculum and widen the access to excluded groups. Thanks to the use of ICT, which connect the different actors of learning communities together in a virtual learning network, learning is brought closer to learners
and learners closer to one another.