The key feature of multi-stakeholder partnerships (MSPs) is that private-sector partners (industry, employers from the private sector) take over responsibilities which in traditional education systems have been held (more or less) exclusively by public sector or civic sector institutions. MSPs build on the idea that the private sectors can complement, supplement and extend services provided by the public sector by increasing the available resources.

As such, MSPs are closely related to the more well-known public-private partnerships (PPP), which are usually defined as systems in which a government service is funded and operated through a partnership of government and one or more private sector companies. As opposed to PPPs, however, MSPs do not necessarily include the public sector – participating non-industry partners can also come from the civil sector (e.g. trade unions).

Another difference between more traditional PPPs and MSPs is the latter’s emphasis on involving all key stakeholders which are of relevance for a certain e-skills related issue – rather than just a couple of partners who join forces to stem a fixed-term assignment. This is seen as the best way to ensure that progress will be self-sustainable and all-encompassing, as opposed to the piecemeal, uncoordinated approaches which too often dominate the modernisation of systems of vocational education in Europe.

From an industry viewpoint, multi-stakeholder partnerships present the possibility of overcoming the traditional polarisation between the public education system, which is the main factor behind supply of (formalised) skills on the labour market, and private sector employers, which exert demand for particular skills.