The consequences of a year-long war in Ukraine have forced Europe to step on the accelerator in its energy transition to avoid or minimize dependence on Russia and other major global powers. This path has caught Spain in full implementation of a Vocational Training model that, without neglecting traditional sectors, has focused on the green economy and emerging sectors. The Ministry of Education, through the General Secretariat of FP, is working on new formations linked to lithium batteries, hydrogen or biomass with leading companies in these surroundings, as explained this week by its manager, Clara Sanz, in an interview with ‘La Información’ just before meeting with the autonomous communities.
The moment could not be more propitious. Spain will have four of the 40 new battery factories for electric cars that will be built in Europe by 2030. From the gigafactory that Volkswagen will build in Sagunto -with a planned investment of 3,000 million euros-, to those of Phi4Tech in Badajoz, the of the consortium between Acciona and the Chinese company Envision in Navalmoral de la Mata and Basquevolt, which will be developed on the outskirts of Vitoria by Iberdrola, CIE and Enagás in collaboration with the Government of the Basque Country. At the same time, Spain has set a goal of capturing more than a fifth of the European production of green hydrogen in 2030 and has announced new investments in the field of biomass. The Executive of Pedro Sánchez calculates that around 500,000 jobs will arise from renewable energies in the next decade.
Along this path, it is not only important that training places are created, but that, as jobs are discovered, companies can have the necessary specialists. The general secretary emphasizes that for multinationals the decision to settle in Spain or elsewhere depends on the existence of well-trained professionals. “They come and ask us if we are going to be able to guarantee that they are going to have professionals, that is the determining element to settle or not”, points out Clara Sanz, and emphasizes that the Spanish economy is facing a moment of enormous opportunities that companies have to be able to take advantage
Last week the Government announced the creation of 4,000 more places this year within Vocational Training linked to renewable energies, which will be increased to a total of 20,000. Spain occupies the eighth position worldwide in installed power and the second within the European Union. In addition, it has broken records for new photovoltaic installations, doubling the figures for self-consumption. It is a turnaround that the whole of Europe is accelerating in the wake of the war in Ukraine and the sanctions on Russia. Wind and solar power generated a fifth (22%) of the European Union’s electricity in 2022, surpassing gas (20%) for the first time, according to a report by the energy think tank Ember.
The ‘perfect storm’ and Next Generation funds
Clara Sanz explains that, despite the fact that the FP Law already had an economic memory of 5,500 million euros, the current situation has acted as a perfect storm. A year before Covid broke out and the Commission designed its Recovery Mechanism, Spain already had the diagnosis, the plan and the necessary funds to work in this area. Now, the Next Generation have made it possible to “resize” many lines of action, create new places, modernize training with technology classrooms or work in the field of accreditation of skills. “That is why we have everything so well fitted and that it is going with a shoot that is allowing us a very high degree of execution,” says the person in charge of the FP.
In three years, more than 20% of the number of vocational training students has risen to the historical milestone of exceeding the figure of 1.1 million. In that same period, 210,000 jobs have been created, when the perspective was to move forward with 200,000 in four years. Now, Education intends to create another 100,000 new places this year. In addition, and in the case of active workers, their participation in training has multiplied by four. They are, in Sanz’s opinion, “magnificent” results for such a short period of time and when Spain started from such low ground. From his point of view “there is no turning back in this process” and now the objective is “to strengthen it”.
A 180 degree turn in the FP model
The Organic Law for the Organization and Integration of Vocational Training has meant a 180 degree turn in relation to the previous model. In force since 2021, it unifies the training and permanent qualification of workers throughout their working lives, increases the minimum hours that students must spend in the company, regulates how all offers must be (from the most extensive to micro-training aimed at those who are active) and develops the accreditation of professional skills that workers have been acquiring through their work experience.
In Spain, practically half of the workers do not have their skills accredited because they have not acquired them through formal training, but through experience. “This is unsustainable for a developed country, for any economy and company because its talent map does not correspond to the talent that really exists, which is the main added value,” says Sanz. Companies see what talent they have and who they need to attract at a time when there is “enough difficulty” in finding and retaining it in all sectors. The forecast is that between 55 and 60% of the jobs are for intermediate and higher vocational training technicians, and in Spain “we find that we do not have professionals trained for these positions that, in the end, are the muscle of the company”.
“Companies hired overqualified people for a position and had to retrain them”
This has to do in part with the social perception that Vocational Training had until not long ago, which was understood as “a second option”. The data reflects rather the opposite: only 17% of young people with a vocational training degree are unemployed, according to official figures. The change has also been brought about by the private sector which, for a long time, had tended to hire overqualified people for specific jobs. “The company was hiring overqualified people and had to retrain them to do a job they hadn’t been prepared for.” This practice had just had a negative impact on his productivity.
The lack of professionals that affects Europe
The problem of a lack of VET professionals affects the whole of Europe in a general way and extends to practically all sectors, from transport to information technology. In Spain, the starting point is low and that is why “we have a greater need”, acknowledges Clara Sanz. According to Eurostat data, 48% of students in upper secondary education in the European Union (22 million) opt for vocational training on average, while in Spain the percentage is 34%.
The general secretary of FP explains that the evolution that this type of training has undergone in Spain over the last few years is due to the joint effort of the public and private sectors and the good working climate that has been generated between the parties. “In FP nothing works if there is no mutual trust between the actors: administrations, companies, business organizations, trade unions, the centers… because otherwise it is very difficult to work together”, she points out. The coordination between the State and the autonomies is being absolute on this issue. “Without being one hundred percent in agreement on everything, we have managed to find the intersection, which are the difficulties that the FP had,” she explains to this newspaper.
“In FP nothing works if there is no mutual trust between all the actors”
Another of the open action fronts is related to SMEs, essential because they make up more than 90% of the productive fabric. “Since a little over a decade ago, an attempt was made to transpose the German dual VET model to Spain and the fact is that the size of German SMEs is not that of Spanish ones. That is why it was not lacking and did not exceed 3%,” Sanz details. Now this fabric of SMEs and micro-enterprises is being incorporated into the VT ecosystem through innovation. The Law proposes formulas such as the existence of intermediate bodies that help these companies to group together, so that the people who are being trained can rotate through them, and that take care of all the bureaucratic issues to avoid the most cumbersome part of the process for SMEs. process in terms of time.
VT and innovation in SMEs
The training centers themselves become the R&D department that many of these micro-enterprises lack. “We are talking about centers where there are applied digitization classrooms, simulators, immersive reality to work… and that the people in training are doing it with the most cutting-edge elements designed by leading companies in each sector,” explains Sanz. From his point of view, it is necessary to change the perception that still exists among SMEs that having someone in training is a cost for some, because if they do not enter into this innovative dynamic, they are in danger of disappearing. The experiences of grouping SMEs in electricity, electronics, industrial sector… which Education plans to extend to other sectors are also working well.
The ministry is not only concerned about the difficulty in recruiting professionals, but also about the loss of senior talent. “We cannot be stating that a person at 55 years of age, for example, already automatically leaves the labor market. It is something that is also unsustainable for the companies themselves,” stresses the general secretary. It is a problem that has to do with the talent map and professional orientation. That is where the training itineraries in which they work would be framed so that companies can relocate those employees who already know their culture well. Perhaps “we are just not aware of such an enormous and structural change. It is not that it came from regretting digitization and that we can continue doing the same,” she adds. Experience can become a company’s worst enemy if these new elements are not incorporated.