World Youth Skills Day 2020 – Skills for a resilient transport sector!

15 Jul 2020

Quality training for quality jobs and fair transition

On World Youth Skills Day 2020, we find ourselves in a peculiar situation. In addition to the need to adapt societies and industries to prevent climate change, as well as the effects of digitalisation and automation, we are dealing with the added crisis caused by COVID-19. It is a challenging time for all workers, and, as usual, young workers are bearing the brunt of the crisis. They are overrepresented in insecure jobs, have less of a financial cushion to fall back on, and are unable to find stability in this unpredictable world of work.

Despite all this, we believe that this is not the time to mourn. It is the time to face the future, and plan for it, arm ourselves with the right skills to thrive in it. We believe that with the right vision, transport sectors can offer quality opportunities and a secure future for many workers, including the younger generation, looking for more security.

To make sure young workers are skilled to face future challenges, employers and governments should follow some key principles.

  • As employers introduce new technologies, they must consult with workers’ representatives and provide free and quality training for their workers, in their working time. Quality training is what will make jobs in the transport sectors more accessible to younger workers.
  • Employers should also ensure that all of their workers have the opportunity to upskill and increase their competences throughout their career. For young people that are deciding on their career, providing quality apprenticeship and future training opportunities is an important factor.
  • Quality training needs to be accompanied by quality working conditions and job security, as well as a commitment to retain qualified staff in the sectors. Transport sectors will be inclusive and attract youth only if they can offer decent jobs.

Aviationretaining skilled staff and offer youth a secure future

The safety of aviation – of passengers, workers, and the general public – depends on the well-trained staff that keep the industry going.  Right now, European aviation is dealing with the effects of COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean that the question of skills should be forgotten.

Air traffic management systems of Europe were facing huge issues in recruiting sufficient numbers of staff before the crisis. While at the moment, all of them are experiencing limited funding and have stopped training and recruiting staff and some workers, in particular young workers in training, have been laid off, this will have negative consequences in the long term. Training of an ATM employee takes years, and when the aviation industry gets back on its feet, it will again be faced with a capacity crunch as there will be a distinct lack of trained young workers in the sector. The sector needs to learn from its past experiences fast and make sure as it recovers, there will be skilled young workers in its midst.

High-quality training is also key for the flight crew. Pilots, as well as cabin crew, are highly skilled professionals. Cabin crew work as guardians of safety on board and the first line of defence when unpredictable events happen. They have strong organisational and leadership skills: they remain calm while ensuring passengers are safe, including in an emergency situation. They are trained to evacuate the flight in a matter of seconds if the situation requires so, and they are in charge of first aid as well.

Similarly, ground handling workers’ skills are what keep airports safe, secure, and well-run. Airport workers are equipped with strong communication and diplomatic skills while workers in ground handling make sure your aircraft is ready and safe to take off. They all work together to make the system run. Currently, workers in these sub-sectors are experiencing mass job losses, but we cannot allow losing this skilled workforce. One of the solutions would be to create labour pools that unite the staff that is let go, and any rehiring would first include them, ensuring that the experience stays within the sector and it is rebuilt on firm foundations. Even prior to the current crisis, young people were a lot more likely than adults to be unemployed and in insecure jobs. Ensuring that the skilled workers are retained in the sector and that they get priority in rehiring, can make an essential difference in workers’ lives and can offer added security to the young workers who have been dealing with precarity their entire working lives.

Dockers – training to face challenges of the future head-on

Improving young dockers’ skills plays a fundamental role in the light of the significant challenges the port sector is facing. Automation and digitalisation are a reality in most ports and are strongly influencing the nature and number of jobs. At the same time, ports are faced with the need to adapt themselves to the demand for a greener, environmentally sustainable future.

If we are to establish ports as accessible and interesting places of work for youth and to be able to retain young dockers in the sector, quality training for young workers must be ensured. New skills and competencies are required in the “jobs of the future”, such as digital and technological knowledge and new skills for a more sustainable and green-oriented port sector.

Along with these new requirements, health and safety must be a top priority as well. Ensuring that the jobs are safe is key in ensuring that young people feel protected and see the sector as a place for themselves in the long term. Training young workers to perform port operations safely will always be key – no matter what the future brings.

Fisheries – training and quality working conditions to address the ageing workforce

The average age of the workforce in fisheries is fairly high, and attracting new workers to the sector is crucial if it’s to survive. The traditional way of young people entering the profession – through their families – is becoming a thing of the past, and new tactics need to be used to train youth for the jobs in fisheries.

Training is one of the critical factors in this endeavour. Training needs to be a part of fishers lives before, as well as consistently during the length of the career. At the same time, however, it is essential to note that training itself will not solve the issue of the lack of youth. We need to ensure that the jobs they enter are decent jobs, with quality working conditions.

Inland Waterways – training to raise quality standards and ensure safety

Inland waterways transport always has been essential in providing unhampered services and timely delivery of goods, and it has proven to be so yet again during the COVID-19 crisis. To ensure that there is a workforce to keep it going, the workplaces need to be characterised by high social, qualification, safety and security standards.

Upcoming industry changes, in particular connected to digitalisation and automation, require permanent training and retraining, to create and keep a highly-skilled workforce. In response to the European Commission’s NAIADES III package, ETF suggested a creation of a permanent exchange programme between different training institutions in Europe. Exchanges would improve the quality and level of knowledge and understanding of IWT students.

Another aspect of training that requires further attention is safety. ETF believes that new safety procedures and requirements should be established to prevent cases of man overboard incidents. Increased safety of crew would also positively impact the interest of youth in seeking jobs in inland navigation.

Seafarers – skills for maritime professionals to thrive in the changing industry

Many trends are changing the seafaring profession, including digitalisation, automation, and the greening of the sector. All of these require a response in the form of training for existing workers as well as those only looking to enter the profession. At the same time, many seafarers already face skill gaps and urgently need further training.

To explore the different ways training can and should be adapted to the future needs of the professions, ETF Maritime Section is, together with the European social partner ECSA, participating in a project called SkillSea. As part of it, research was done on what skills are needed for maritime professionals that work in the fast-changing industry.

The first report has shown that more training should be given in sustainability, greening and digitisation. Future seafarers also need to develop soft skills in leadership and management. Also, there is a need for transition programs that make the shift from working at sea to working on shore easier. Finally, the researchers recommend that the STCW training (the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers) be extended to include maritime law, corporate finance, autonomous shipping and other new technology-based skills.

All of these findings are essential and should be used immediately to adapt the training programs for maritime professionals. Future proof training and education are vital. This will make career progression and mobility possible in a changing maritime transport sector, and in the long run, it will guarantee the sustainability of the industry in Europe. It will also help to make the sector more attractive, particularly towards young people and women.

Railways –  quality training to ensure a thriving industry

The average age of the workforce is fairly high, and attracting young workers is crucial if the sector is to thrive and develop as the backbone of sustainable transport and fulfil its key role in achieving the goals of the European Green Deal.

Young workers can help the sector rethink ways of operating and improve work-life balance and benefits, and bring new ideas to the table in collective bargaining negotiations. Attracting and recruiting young workers can help the entire workforce face the current changes brought by digitalisation and automation.

In light of these changes, new skills are needed to ensure the safety and quality of services. Services are now digitalised and night trains are making a comeback; the public feels more inclined to take the train for intra-European travel but language barriers and lack of staff on trains could hamper this. In order to attract passengers, there must be a human presence: passengers must feel reassured, and ensuring the presence of well-trained staff for example in maintenance, customer services and on-board staff is of the utmost importance if the sector is to provide quality services.

In 2016, our joint project with social partner CER: Promoting employment and attractive working conditions in the European rail sector showed that young workers seek and need opportunities to expand skills and knowledge at work. This still proves true today. To attract young workers to the sector, investments in the same level of quality training in every company are needed. Quality training increases job satisfaction, sets a path for career development and favour staff retention. Such certificates will make the sector more attractive to young people as it makes it easier for them to find work in another country.

Our current project with Social Partner CER: Employability in the railway sector in the light of digitalisation and automation shows that employers also recognise the need for skills and training. The project seeks to guarantee quality jobs and employment for young workers in conjunction with technological development.

Road – quality training and working conditions to face the future

Driver training is an essential tool for reducing work-related road risk as well as guaranteeing law compliance and leaves no doubt that drivers are qualified professionals. Automation will bring many changes to the sector and require more than driving skills, and continuous vocational education and training will be necessary to meet these new requirements.

Quality training must be ensured by all companies to attract young people to the sector – they need reassurance that they will be offered quality training to ensure their safety and that of road users.

In the bus and coach sector, there is a shortage of skilled drivers, and most of them are over 50 years of age. In some Member States – we are told – the annual retirement rate among bus and coach drivers can reach 10 to 15%. If we are to ensure the survival of the sector, attracting young workers is crucial.

However, in both passenger and freight transport, training alone will not solve the lack of young drivers. Unfriendly work schedules, inadequate rest conditions, weekends away from home and poor levels of pay fail to meet the expectations of today’s job seekers. For all these reasons and more, young people think twice before choosing to work in road transport. It is crucial to ensure fair working conditions to attract young workers to the sector.

Urban Public Transport – training in emerging professions and opportunities to develop in the changing industry

The current pandemic has shown us just how essential Urban Public Transport for the functioning of society. However, if the urban public transport sector is to continue to offer quality services and thrive, there is an urgent need to attract young workers and women to the sector.

Part of the draw of working in public transport is its nature as a public service to the people and community, and workers in the sector are proud of their meaningful contribution to society. The sector can offer secure, quality, local jobs which are of huge appeal. Often the local public transport operator is the largest employer in a town and there is a broad variety of professions. To attract young workers to these professions, the sector must offer quality training opportunities, in line with the changes related to digitalisation and automation.

Like many other transport sectors, new technologies are changing the nature of UPT jobs, and creating new ones. There is a real opportunity to attract young people to the sector by offering quality training in emerging new professions for example in programming, new kinds of customer service and communication or new surveillance tasks brought on by driverless metros. Nowadays, all new metro lines are driverless.

The sector also has trouble attracting bus drivers which constitute the biggest professional group. If we are to attract and retain young bus drivers to and in the sector, companies must offer not only quality training, quality working conditions and proper pay but also opportunities for professional development in view of a career. Offering a full apprenticeship with a broader spectre for development is one way to accomplish this and the concept has already been developed in some UPT companies.  Young people will be more inclined to start a career where there is potential for development.


Looking at the different transport sectors, there is no doubt that there are many challenges ahead, and they need to be actively addressed to ensure there is a future for young workers. Quality training, skills, room for professional development are all common factors to attract young works to the transport sector. But on its own, it’s not enough. Any adaptations made to jobs to adapt to changes need to be discussed and prepared with workers’ representatives, and they must come with a strong commitment to providing decent working conditions if young people are to come and stay.