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Fields of activity


As globalisation makes the process of change a way of life, EU workers need to become more adaptable and open to change, so that they can improve their employability. The same applies to enterprises, which also need to be more flexible to adapt to new circumstances. In anticipation of an increasingly globalised world, workers as well as enterprises are facing new challenges and changes in working patterns. To reap the benefits that these developments can offer, workers and companies need to adapt to living with change, to anticipate and proactively manage it.



The ESF is supporting actions aimed at anticipating and managing economic and structural changes to ensure more and better jobs for Europe. As European enterprises learn to adapt to an environment of permanent restructuring, it is important to strike the right balance between flexibility for businesses and security for workers that will help maintain human capital and employability. For this, forward-looking planning of human resources is a core issue. The development of mechanisms for such 'active employment measures' requires partnerships between many actors at national, regional and local levels, as well as at Community level. A major aim is to move away from ‘corporate restructurings’ that include job losses and are essentially a reaction to events, and instead to anticipate such events and circumstances in ways that allow for fluid and smooth change that supports jobs. Creating the conditions for flexibility and security which will support human capital and employment protection depends on several factors: the qualifications of the workforce, including their transferable skills; the internal flexibility of companies, including issues such as multi-skilling and working time arrangements; and external flexibility in the form of company outplacements, for example.



To help meet the objectives of the EU Strategy for Growth and Jobs, European workers must be among the best in the world: well educated and trained, with the skills to meet the demands of the knowledge economy and to take it forward. To achieve this, learning can no longer stop at the school gates; it must become a lifelong process. As new products and services continue to appear, as new technologies and processes are adopted, as industrial sectors and enterprises restructure to become more competitive, and as regional and national economies compete in the global market place; so Europe's workforce must adapt to an environment where change is normal, and new skills are always desirable. Education and training are critical factors in developing the EU's long-term potential for competitiveness, and also for its social cohesion – all citizens should benefit from the more and better jobs on offer. The Union has a comprehensive set of policies and strategies, at European, national and regional levels, to improve the qualifications of the EU workforce. Many of these improve higher education and vocational training systems and build better links between these training providers and industry – to ensure that the skills they teach are those that companies need, today and in the future. The ESF priority for human capital covers all activities concerning education and training. Not only does it aim at improving the quality and availability of education and training to help people get a job, but it also supports training as a lifelong process to help workers keep their jobs, advance in their jobs, prepare themselves to change jobs, and get back into work if they have lost their jobs.



Equality between women and men is a fundamental feature of our democratic society. It is an important element of the EU Strategy for Growth and Jobs, and essential for the European Union to sustain its prosperity.
Despite increasing female participation in the labour market and in higher education, differences still remain in the labour market position of men and women. The ESF has already made important contributions to improving the situation of women in the labour market. For example, it has contributed to reducing the gender pay gap, from as high as 40% (in the 1960s) to less than 20% today. Whilst this is good progress, clearly the efforts must continue.
As well as being a matter of social justice, the elimination of gender discrimination is also a matter of economic necessity. Gender equality in employment is a key element in generating strong growth and creating jobs. It is vital to meet the current demographic challenges of an ageing population, shrinking workforce, and falling fertility rates, and it can help to ensure the financial sustainability of social welfare systems.
The importance attached to ensuring gender equality in employment is reflected in the ESF programming. It comprises two approaches:
• Gender mainstreaming, which incorporates the gender dimension into all ESF priorities;
• Specific actions aimed at getting women into work and sustaining them there.
The gender-mainstreaming approach means that particular attention must be paid to equal opportunities in the programming and implementation of all ESF activities. Where possible, they support the promotion of women in employment and the elimination of pay differentials. Specific actions target women’s employment directly – for example, by concentrating on a particular group such as immigrant women or women entrepreneurs. As well as promoting equal opportunities, the aim of this ESF priority is to support the Lisbon target of raising the average level of women’s participation in the workforce to 60% by 2010.



The strategy and implementation of policies in Member States is the responsibility of a variety of public organisations, such as government ministries, or local authority departments, or specific agencies. To contribute to the quality and effectiveness of these policies and services – and their success – these organisations need modern administrative and management capacities. In the less-developed Member States and regions the public services responsible for the development of employment-related strategies and their implementation may lack the capacities to do so in the right way and cost-effectively. For this reason, in the ESF programmes funding is earmarked for strengthening the institutional and administrative capacity in Convergence regions and Member States receiving Cohesion funding. Typical aspects of administrative and institutional capacity that could need attention might include: the quality of civil servants, who may need better training; the take-up of information technologies, where more use of IT might promote efficiency and information sharing; and the way the organisations interact with the socio-economic environment, that perhaps could benefit from a more ‘partnership’ oriented approach. These are just a few examples. Support is based on a strategic approach where the Member State identifies areas of weakness in national, regional and local administrations and the improvements that would bring the greatest socio-economic benefits. In identifying weaknesses, particular attention is paid to developing mechanisms to improve good policy and programme design; and strengthening the ability of public services to deliver these policies and programmes.