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Commission revealed 12 winners of VET Excellence Awards

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The European Vocational Skills Week took place across Europe and beyond last week (from 16 to 20 May). Organised by the European Commission every year, it is an occasion to celebrate best practices in Vocational Education and Training (VET), bringing together everyone involved – from local, to national and regional authorities, students, teachers and education and training organisation stakeholders – to showcase the benefits VET offers to young people and adults alike. This year’s sixth edition focused on ‘VET and the Green Transition’, supporting people to acquire the necessary skills for the green transition, in line with the European Green Deal.  

At the VET Excellence Awards ceremony, the Commission announced the winners of this flagship prize in different categories. An accountancy apprentice from Greece, the Piedmont Region in Italy, and a Swedish tree care programme have received the European Vocational Skills Week Excellence Award 2022, along with 9 other award winners.

Vice-President for Promoting the European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “It is great to see so many outstanding nominees and winners, celebrating the true benefits that vocational education and training can offer to everyone, young people and adults alike. They showcase the transformational impact that education and training can have on people’s careers and lives. I would also like to give a ‘special mention’ for our partners in Ukraine. We have been working closely together, also through the European Training Foundation, and will continue doing so, to support on topics such as qualifications, to help the Ukrainian people in these extremely difficult times.”

Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, said: “The green transition can become a real job engine if people receive the right support they need to thrive in their careers and the changing labour markets. The VET Excellence Awards help us identify the best approaches to become fit for the green economy, overcoming today’s labour shortages in key sectors such as construction, manufacturing and energy. I would like to congratulate all the nominees and VET learners, and to thank the thousands of providers of vocational education and training for their dedication.”

This year’s winners

The Commission awarded 12 prizes in four categories and one special mention to apprentices, projects, companies and regions, from the EU, neighbouring and neighbourhood countries, who have successfully used VET to build a greener, more digital and more inclusive society.

The award winners include:

  • Evangelos Pouftas, an apprentice with an accountancy firm in Greece, who demonstrated the key role of apprentices in accelerating the digital transition of small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), by helping the company’s clients to digitalise their work, such as setting up online services to remain competitive, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and increased remote working.
  • The Piedmont Region of Italy,with the support of theEuropean Social Fund, promoted to young learners a culture of sustainability in food production and consumption along the agri-food chain.
  • The ‘Veteran Tree Management Skills Certification’ project of Stiftelsen Pro Natura. This Swedish programme, funded by Erasmus+,is designed to raise the standard of the caring for trees that have an exceptional value for nature conservation, landscape or culture, known as ‘veteran trees’.

Further award winners are:

  • AKMI S.A., Greece
  • Programme ‘Working inclusion and equal opportunities for the most disadvantaged’, ALMI BILBAO S.A.L., Spain
  • Cyclades –  5th Evening Vocational High School of Patra, Greece
  • Environmental and Agricultural Education in School, Georgia
  • Prof. Dr. Linda Clarke, University of Westminster, United Kingdom
  • ÖBB Infrastruktur AG, Austria
  • Otto Stöckl Elektroinstallationen GmbH, Austria
  • Riga State Technical School, Latvia
  • Virtual Dawn, Finland

In addition to the prizes in the different categories, a special mention went to Ukrainian partners who, along with the European Training Foundation, have been reforming their education and training systems, focusing on qualifications, the future of skills in key economic sectors, and governance arrangements to modernise the system and to bring it closer to the system in the EU.

EU actions to promote VET

The Commission is actively promoting vocational education and training as part of its work to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights, and specifically the right to education, training and lifelong learning. This is also important to achieve the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan EU headline target that all partners committed to at the Porto Social Summit: at least 60% of all adults should participate in training every year.

On 1 July 2020, the Commission proposed a Council Recommendation on vocational education and training, to make VET more modern, attractive, flexible and fit for the digital age and the green transition. This proposal is embedded in other Commission initiatives, such as the European Skills Agenda and the Communication on Youth Employment Support – A Bridge to Jobs for the next generation.

In addition, the Commission put forward in December 2021 proposals for Individual Learning Accounts and Micro-credentials, to help open up more opportunities for people to find learning offers, and employment opportunities.

The European Commission also supports vocational education and training through significant funding, such as through the European Social Fund Plus (with total budget of almost €99.3 billion for 2021-2027), Erasmus+, and the Recovery and Resilience Facility, which has ‘reskilling and upskilling’ as one of its seven flagship areas for reforms and investments. 

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Rise of disinformation a symptom of ‘global diseases’ undermining public trust

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Societies everywhere are beset by “global diseases” including systemic inequality which have helped fuel a rise in disinformation, or the deliberate spreading of falsehoods, said the UN human rights chief on Tuesday, addressing the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Michelle Bachelet said the restoration of public trust was essential, as disinformation should really be seen as a symptom of diseases such as systemic inequality, which has seen “deep-seated discrimination” flourish, along with fragile institutions, a loss of trust in effective governance, and “limited rule of law”.

She said those countries impacted by inequality were now threatened with instability and frayed co-existence within society.

Flourishing amid discontent

“Disinformation spreads when people feel that their voices are not heard. It arises in contexts where political disenchantment, economic disparity or social unrest flourish”, she said.

“It flourishes when civil society, journalists, human rights defenders and scientists cannot work, assemble and speak freely. When civic space is limited or closed. When the human rights to freedom of expression and access to information are threatened.”

It can be fuelled by governments and public officials, potentially leading to hate crimes and violence.

But she warned governments against trying to “officially ordain what is false, and what is true, and then attach legal consequences to those determinations. Our human right to access and impart information, is not limited to only what is deemed by the State as ‘accurate’”.

She called for a focus on “assessing how communications are being revolutionized by technology and on unpacking who is responsible for what.

“We need to look at how best to contain the harms caused by disinformation, while addressing the underlying causes that give disinformation life and allow it to gain traction.”

She said the sheer speed and volume of information circulating online, meant that it could be easily manipulated, with campaigns using automatic tools, rapidly creating a “false impressions of broad popular support for or against certain ideas, or be used to counter and marginalise dissident voices and ideas.”

Organized disinformation campaigns are also being used to silence rights defenders, journalists, and minority voices, “and as a result of repeated attacks, women, minority communities and others can be deterred from participating in the public sphere.”

Fighting back

The international response has to be consistent with universal rights obligations, she warned.

“When we debate the best ways to respond, we need to understand that censorship is not only an ineffective medicine – it can actually harm the patient.” Freedom of expression and the right to access information are essential, she underscored.

“I therefore call on States to uphold their international obligation to promote and protect these rights, whatever the social ill they seek to mitigate. Maintaining a vibrant and pluralistic civic space will be crucial in this endeavour.”

She called for policies which support independent journalism, pluralism in media, and digital literacy, which can help citizens “navigate” the online world and boost critical thinking.

“States must also ensure wide and free access to information so that it reaches all communities and constituencies…Trust can never be achieved without genuine government transparency.”

Social media regulation ‘insufficient’

The human rights chief said that social media businesses have transformed the way information circulates, “and they have a clear role to play.”

“To start with, we must understand better how they affect our national and global debates. While platforms have taken welcome steps to enhance their own transparency, and redress channels, progress remains insufficient.

She called for independent auditing of social media companies’ services and operations, and more clarity on the way advertising and personal data is being handled.

“And we need access for researchers and others to the data within companies, that can help us better understand and address disinformation.”

Two steps

Ms. Bachelet told the Human Rights Council that there are two “critical needs” in the battle against rising disinformation.

First, we need to deepen our understanding and knowledge: we need more research on how the digital sphere has transformed media and information flows; on how best to build public trust within this environment; and on how different actors can contribute to countering disinformation operations.”

Secondly, she said all discussions had to be framed within human rights norms. “Shortcuts do not work here: censorship and broad content take-downs are an ineffective and dangerous response.”

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Abu Akleh shooting: fatal shot came from Israeli forces

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Veteran Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh spent a quarter century covering life under Israeli military rule. Photo: Al Jazeera

Israeli forces were behind the fatal shooting of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank – not indiscriminate Palestinian firing – the UN human rights office, OHCHR, alleged on Friday.

Ms. Akleh – an experienced television journalist familiar with reporting in the Occupied Palestinian Territories – was killed on 11 May, as she attempted to report on an arrest operation by Israeli Security Forces and clashes in Jenin refugee camp in the northern occupied West Bank.

‘Deeply disturbing’

“More than six weeks after the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and injury of her colleague Ali Sammoudi in Jenin on 11 May 2022, it is deeply disturbing that Israeli authorities have not conducted a criminal investigation,” said OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani.

Following OHCHR’s own probe into the incident, Ms. Shamdasani added that “this monitoring from our Office is consistent with many findings out there that the shots that killed her came from Israeli Security Forces”.

Rejecting that conclusion, a statement issued by the Israeli mission in Geneva insisted that it was not yet possible to conclude who was responsible, in view of the Palestinian Authority’s “refusal to conduct a joint investigation and hand over the bullet”.

Final moments

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, Ms. Shamdasani described Ms. Akleh’s final moments, with her colleague, Ali Sammoudi.

“At around half past six in the morning, as four of the journalists turned into the street leading to the camp, wearing bulletproof helmets and flak jackets with ‘PRESS’ markings, several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets were fired towards them from the direction of the Israeli Security Forces. One single bullet injured Ali Sammoudi in the shoulder, and another single bullet hit Abu Akleh in the head and killed her instantly.”

Highlighting how the OHCHR probe had followed the methodology used in many other country situations, Ms. Shamdasani explained that there was no evidence of activity by armed Palestinians close by.

Ms. Akleh and her colleagues “had proceeded slowly in order to make their presence visible to the Israeli forces deployed down the street”, Ms. Shamdasani said. “Our findings indicate that no warnings were issued and no shooting was taking place at that time and at that location.”

Every angle

She added: “We’ve inspected photo, video, audio material, we’ve visited the scene, we’ve consulted with experts, and we’ve looked at official communications; we’ve interviewed people who were also on the scene when Abu Akleh was killed…Based on this very vigorous monitoring, we find that the shots that killed Abu Akleh came from Israeli Security Forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians.”

After Ms. Abu Akleh was shot, “several further single bullets were fired as an unarmed man attempted to approach her body and another uninjured journalist sheltering behind a tree,” the OHCHR official continued. “Shots continued to be fired as this individual eventually managed to carry away Abu Akleh’s body.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has urged the Israeli authorities to open a criminal investigation into the killing of Ms. Abu Akleh and into all other killings and serious injuries by Israeli forces in the West Bank.

Since the beginning of the year, OHCHR said that it had verified that Israeli Security Forces had killed 58 Palestinians in the West Bank, including 13 children.

“International human rights law requires prompt, thorough, transparent, independent and impartial investigation into all use of force resulting in death or serious injury,” said Ms. Shamdasani. “Perpetrators must be held to account.”

Israel has rejected the findings of the OHCHR probe, adding that the Palestinian Authority has not handed over the bullet that killed Ms. Abu Akleh.

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EU-UNIDO projects highlight gender equality as key to climate action

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Ensuring that women and girls equally lead, participate in and benefit from environmental action are key priorities for the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Speaking at an event held in connection with the Stockholm+50 conference, three women who participate in EU-UNIDO projects around the world told their stories. 

Opening the event, Gerd Müller, UNIDO Director General, and Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, both underlined that a healthy planet is impossible if gender inequalities persist. Therefore, women’s voices as leaders of circular economy, climate technologies and environmental preservation must be recognized and amplified.

Three projects from the EU-UNIDO cooperation portfolio were highlighted during the event.

Amira Saber, Member of the Egyptian Parliament and Secretary General of the Foreign Relations Committee, participates in the Parliamentary action on climate and energy project, which helps catalyze greater engagement of women MPs in renewable energy, energy access and sustainable transport issues. She said that “voices of women are not well represented in the issue of climate change, neither as negotiators, nor as policymakers. Through my NGO, which was founded to close the gap between civil society organizations and policymakers, we’ve been helping with many trainings to build the capacity of women-led organizations, to train women, to give them data and to help implement their projects on the ground.”

She continued, “I want all the women figures in senior policymaking who are influential in their countries and in their surroundings to understand and to stand very solid on the importance of the critical issues, which we’re talking about: climate change.”

Lep Mary, a Cambodian business owner, is part of the CAPFISH project, which supports the Cambodian government’s efforts to achieve sustainable development, climate resilience and inclusivity of the country’s freshwater and marine fisheries resources. Mary noted that “with the support of the UNIDO-CAPFish project, we are able to address most of our challenges related to food safety compliance while enhancing capacity of our suppliers along the value chain on food safety practices. The support will also help to improve environment plans regarding waste management and the safety of workers.”

The Youth Rising project supports vocational education and training for young people in Liberia. Esther Gheh Isatta Javillie, who is part of the project, said that ”the local carpenter producers are all-male. We have this stereotype in Liberia that technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is really for males”.

The event was organized by UNIDO and the EU in association with the Stockholm+50 conference, which commemorates the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment and celebrates 50 years of global environmental action. It was moderated by Cecilia Ugaz Estrada, Director of UNIDO’s Office for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women.

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