Vocational Training
The term Vocational Education and Training refers to practical activities and courses related to a specific occupation or vocation, aimed at preparing participants for their future careers. Vocational training is an essential means to achieve professional recognition and improve chances to get a job. It is therefore vital that vocational training systems in Europe respond to the needs of citizens and the labour market in order to facilitate access to employment.

Vocational education and training has been an essential part of EU policy since the very establishment of the European Community. It is also a crucial element of the so-called EU Lisbon Strategy, which aims at transforming Europe into the world’s most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based society. 

In 2002 the European Council reaffirmed this vital role, and established yet another ambitious goal – to make European education and training renowned globally by the year 2010 – by championing a number of world-class initiatives, and in particular by strengthening cooperation in the area of vocational training.

EU initiatives for the promotion of vocational training cooperation

In its efforts to promote a collaborative approach to the development of vocational training systems in Europe, the European Union makes use of a variety of instruments and implements a wide series of programmes and initiatives.


Socrates advocates European cooperation in all areas of education. This cooperation takes different forms:

  • mobility (moving around Europe),
  • organising joint projects,
  • setting up European networks (disseminating ideas and good practice), 
  • and
    conducting studies and comparative analyses.

In practice, Socrates offers people grants to study, teach, undertake a placement or follow a training course in another country. It provides support for educational establishments to organise teaching projects and to exchange experiences. It helps associations and NGOs in organising activities on educational topics, etc.

Leonardo da Vinci

The Leonardo da Vinci programme, adopted in 1994, has as a main objective the implementation of the EU’s training policy. It is one of the major instruments supporting trans-national mobility in Europe and provides funding to public and private organisations active in training issues. Leonardo also supports placement and exchange projects, study visits and trans-national networks, amongst others.

Adult Education and Lifelong Learning in Europe

Lifelong learning is a process that involves all forms of education – formal, informal and non-formal – and lasts from the pre-school period until after retirement. It is meant to enable people to develop and maintain key competencies throughout their life as well as to empower citizens to move freely between jobs, regions and countries. Lifelong learning is also a core element of the previously mentioned Lisbon Strategy, as it is crucial for self-development and the raising of competitiveness and employability. The EU has adopted several instruments for the promotion of adult education in Europe.

A European area of lifelong learning

In order to make lifelong learning a reality in Europe, the European Commission has set itself the objective of creating a European Area of Lifelong Learning. In this context, the Commission focuses on identifying the needs of both learners and the labour market in order to make education more accessible and subsequently create partnerships between public administrations, suppliers of educational services and civil society.

This EU initiative is based on the objective of providing basic skills – by strengthening counselling and information services at a European level, and by recognising all forms of learning, including formal education and informal and non-formal training.


Grundtvig is one of the actions of the EU education programme Socrates and aims primarily at improving the quality of vocational adult education. It also seeks to promote exchanges and cooperation that facilitate opportunities and access to lifelong learning for EU citizens.

EU organisations promoting vocational education in Europe

With the objective of facilitating cooperation and exchange in the field of vocational training, the EU has set up specialised bodies working in the field of vocational training.

  • The European Centre for Vocational Training (CEDEFOP / Centre Européen pour le Développement de la Formation Professionnelle) was created in 1975 as a specialised EU agency for the promotion and development of vocational education and training in Europe. 
    Based in Thessaloniki, Greece, it carries out research and analysis on vocational training and disseminates its expertise to various European partners, such as related research institutions, universities or training facilities.
  • The European Training Foundation was established in 1995 and works in close collaboration with CEDEFOP. Its mission is to support partner countries (from outside the EU) to modernise and develop their systems for vocational training.

Text last edited on: 02/2008

Source: European Union
© European Communities, 1995-2008
Reproduction is authorised.

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