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European Year of Skills
News article13 May 20242 min read

Dutch Programme is successfully promoting lifelong learning in SMEs

Rapid technological advancements and the green transition are reshaping work and tasks. Vocational and technically skilled workers are particularly crucial for driving these transitions.

A woman doing handicraft.

With a tight labour market, many sectors struggle to find new employees, underscoring the urgent need for continuous workforce development. 

While the Netherlands performs well internationally in formal learning, certain target groups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which constitute 99% of the labour market, show average participation in lifelong learning (LLL). Workplace learning plays a significant role, with both employers and employees sharing responsibility and interest in training to remain flexible, innovative, and responsive to market demands. The government's role is to facilitate and promote LLL, especially for specific target groups and sectors, and fostering a positive learning culture. 

Stimulating a broad learning culture 

The Netherlands has recently launched a campaign to stimulate a learning culture, which incentivises people to learn and work on their skills throughout their career. The Learning Culture Programme focuses on stimulating learning and development in companies, with special attention to SMEs. The aim is to make SMEs more aware of the necessity and value of LLL and to provide instruments for making learning and development more self-evident in their organisation. Stimulating informal learning is an important part of this. 

People learn in many different ways and have different preferences on how to learn. Some people are less likely to engage in formal learning as they may have negative past experiences. Most of the time spent on learning and developing happens on and off work. According to Dutch research, up to 91% percent of learning happens in an informal way. People continuously learn by doing new tasks, by receiving feedback from a colleague or by peer-to-peer coaching. That is why informal learning is the way to go for SMEs, as it can be easily incorporated into their daily routine. Moreover, informal learning, non-formal learning and formal learning are complementary to each other. Research shows that participation in one form of learning stimulates participation in another form.  

Subsidy schemes SLIM and The Expedition 

The SLIM (‘stimulating learning culture in SMEs’) subsidy scheme allocates €48 million annually to support learning and development initiatives in SMEs. Since its inception in March 2020, over 5000 grants have been awarded, benefiting individual SMEs, partnerships, and large companies from the agricultural, catering, and recreation sector. In addition to the subsidy, the Dutch government offers a support programme for the successful implementation of projects by providing information, offering practical tools, and organising the exchange of knowledge between projects. 

Evaluation of the SLIM scheme highlights its positive impact on LLL in participating companies, including clearer strategies, increased investment in learning and development, better understanding of employee skills and aspirations, and enhanced competency levels among employees. 

The Expedition Scheme, another part of the Learning Culture Programme, focuses on knowledge sharing and development. It finances projects aimed at making scientific and practical knowledge on lifelong learning and sustainable employability more accessible. The initiative supports projects whose outcomes will be publicly available, contributing to broader knowledge dissemination and future rounds of funding. Four projects were implemented in 2023. A new application period will open in May 2024. 


Publication date
13 May 2024