Upskilling Pathways: Working together to share core skills throughout Europe

1 Jul 2022
How can we help adults to have better levels of literacy, numeracy and digital skills? How can we help people gain a broader set of skills through an upper secondary qualification or equivalent, like the Leaving Certificate or level 3 or 4 in the European Qualifications Framework? Conor Thompson, our Project Officer for Capacity Building, writes about an EU project working on ways to improve core skills across Europe.

‘Upskilling Pathways’ – an EU process that seeks to help people with low levels of literacy numeracy and digital skills – uses a ‘Three Step Process’ of skills assessment so that individuals can benefit from tailored learning, followed by a learning programme that meets their specific needs, and then validation or recognition of their learning. 

Recently, AONTAS was asked to attend consultations to share Irish experiences of implementing this process. This is part of an evaluation the impact of the initiative across the EU.

Working Together

Research consultancy group Ecorys has found that ‘Upskilling Pathways’ is having a positive impact across member states. Their research shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has made the ‘Upskilling Pathways’ process even more relevant across Europe.

Since ‘Upskilling Pathways’ was launched in 2016, the Green Transition and the digital divide have become ever more relevant across all sectors, requiring more transversal skills (such as critical thinking, interpersonal skills and organisational skills) which Upskilling Pathways can help to provide.

Ecorys also found that more has been achieved by the EU work together than member states could have achieved by working alone.


However, there are some challenges to implementing this process, including how to link ‘Upskilling Pathways’ to green and digital policies, improving links with existing EU Adult Learning and Education (ALE) policies, and focusing on specific target groups.

To meet these challenges, it was suggested that we need to increase the visibility of ‘Upskilling Pathways’ as an option, to acknowledge the diversity of the target groups, and to emphasise the importance of flexibility in how we approach the implementation of the work.


‘Upskilling Pathways’ does not have a dedicated funding stream, and member states must access Erasmus + funds or Government funding. There is a need for ‘wrap-around’ services to compliment skills training initiatives.

Adult Learning and Education (ALE) at EU level ‘falls between two stools’ in terms of funding, as some categorise ALE as relating to employment, while others see it as education-related.


The Recommendation behind ‘Upskilling Pathways’ names ‘low-skilled adults’ as its target group.

The term is at times too broad, encompassing many different groups at risk of social and economic marginalisation.

It is also a term that has negative connotations. Feedback from the workshop attended by AONTAS suggested that the term comes from a ‘deficit model’ of education, where the learner is considered to have a failure or limitation that needs to be corrected. This is at odds with contemporary learning theories that underpin adult and community education. It devalues the multitude of skills that adult learners have, beyond those deemed essential to take part in certain social and economic activities.

Adults who may benefit from core skills training’ would be a more helpful category description.

The ‘Upskilling Pathways’ process must also take into account the intersectional nature of disadvantage and take a more holistic approach.

What’s next for Upskilling Pathways?

The ‘Three Step Process’ of assessment, training and validation for ‘Upskilling Pathways’ should, it was agreed, be maintained, as it can easily be adapted to a variety of national contexts and existing skills development structures (for instance out own FET Strategy in Ireland).

However, as there is a difference between guidance and outreach, we may need a ‘Step Zero’ (prior to assessment), which covers prospective learner outreach.

Ecorys is continuing their work on the evaluation report, which will be presented to the European Commission. The Commission will then decide what changes may need to be made to ‘Upskilling Pathways’ going forward.

Hopefully, these changes will include language aligned to the ‘wealth model’ of adult learning, which holds that learners bring with them a wealth of experiences and knowledge, and the removal of stigmatising categorical descriptions.

Outreach and ‘Step Zero’ may be developed further, as well as relationships with the Green Transition and the digital divide.


Learn more about 'Upskilling Pathways' by clicking here

For more information, contact Conor Thompson, Project Officer for Capacity Building at: