The event counted upon an international panel of experts in the field as Eva Hallström, the Regional Councillor of the Region Värmland (SE) and Chair of AER Working Group on Environment and Climate change. Mrs Hallström opened the discussion providing insights on the importance of achieving a full circular economy transition and the work that international organisations and institutions – including AER, the EU, and the UN – are doing to this aim. The Värmland region is at the forefront when it comes to the green transition through an established system of schools and a dominating university that prepares youngsters to work in a circular bio-based economy, an innovation park, and the recognition of “paper region” due to its long experience with the employment of sustainable materials as paper in the replacement of plastic and over 100 dedicated companies.
Additionally, Belén Gracia, PhD Area Coordinator at Campus Iberius (ES) and Coordinator of the Eramus+ Project PackAlliance, explained how the PackAlliance project is tackling the skills shortage in the circular packaging industry seeking to align academic curricula with industry’s needs.The project is based on open innovation and co-creation approaches that empower the main actors affected by the circular skills transition, as well as on transnational cooperation with higher educational institutions and private companies. Students and SMEs cooperate in detecting the professional skills shortage in the circular packaging industry, and – through the support of educational institutions – in designing a new post-graduate programme focused on the needed competences.
Lastly, Øyvind Nordstrand, Advisor at the Inland County Council (NO), presented the regional and national efforts to strengthen the bioeconomy in the region. According to a report published by SINTEF in 2018, 25.000 new jobs related to bioeconomy can be created in the region by 2050. To achieve this, the region has launched the Competency Pilot project financed jointly by the County and the Ministry of Local Governments and Modernisation as part of a broader national initiative. Specifically, the project focuses on addressing the competency needs in the forest industry by applying the competency broker model, and connecting national and regional governments, local businesses, academia and education institutions, and the civil society. Competency brokers visit and liaise with local SMEs to map their needs in terms of skills, and based on the results, the region develops a training programme that can be customised to the specific needs of the SME. At the same time, the project will provide the region with a more general framework that can be applied for other sectors and replicated by other regions.
The examples and discussions held within the webinar emphasised the importance of directly engaging with local business to understand what skills are needed for a circular economy and to jointly develop educational or training programmes that can meet the needs of the future. At the same time, collaboration among regions and VET organisation across Europe and beyond becomes crucial for designing a model that can be broadly applied and declined to different societal contexts and economic sectors.