The Commission takes on the challenge of a European skill deficit

BERND WUESTNECK

In the context of Girls' Day, instructor Matthias Mueller demonstrates under-the-bonnet skills at a service station in Rostock, Germany, 27 March 2014. More than 100,000 female pupils in fifth grade and above are getting a glimpse of various careers, especially in the technology and natural sciences fields.

The Commission takes on the challenge of a European skill deficit


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This article is part of Amway’s ‘Driving Entrepreneurship in Europe’ Knowledge Network

70 million Europeans lack adequate reading and writing skills, and even more have poor numeracy and digitals skills. 40% of European employers report that they cannot find people with the right skills to grow and innovate.

The European Commission announced on Friday a cluster of policies designed to tackle’s Europe’s mismatch between skills deficits in the job market and labour force capacity. The objective is to simulate investment and job creation by simulating Europe’s most valuable resource, that is, people.

Summarizing the challenge at hand, the Vice-President of the European Commission Jyrki Katainen said “Our new Skills Agenda aims both to make sure that no-one is left behind, and that Europe nurtures the high-end skills that drive competitiveness and innovation.

unemployment

The challenge is clear.

In the first quarter of 2016, the euro area seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 10.2 % in April 2016, stable compared with March 2016, and down from 11.0 % in April 2015. Among the Member States, the lowest unemployment rates in April 2016 were recorded in the Czech Republic (4.1 %) and Germany (4.2 %). The highest rates have been observed in Greece (24.2 % in and Spain (20.1 %).  Matching market needs with labour force skills is part of the challenge at hand.

Skills mismatch in comparative perspective

One of the strong points in German policy is a strong tradition of matching skills with labour market needs. In Greece, 40% of employers encountered difficulties in finding employees with the right skills despite the abundance of a reserve pool of workers. In Germany, where unemployment is not a problem, 51% of employers have difficulties in finding workers with the right skills.

The challenges at hand are very different from member state to member state.

In Greece, 56% of individuals aged 16-74 lack basic digital skills compared with a European average of 44% and Germany’s 34%; in Greece, only 3% of adults are enrolled in a lifelong learning program, as opposed to an 11% European average and 8% in Germany.

But, the overall challenge is the same, across Europe. From today and until 2025 there are to be five times more jobs created for highly-qualified employees than for low-qualified employees. While automation is eating up blue-collar work, medium range vocational skill work will continue to surge. The work force needs to be trained and keep training.

Talking strategy

The core idea is to cultivate the skills required for people to adapt to changing working conditions. An ageing population in a digitally advancing society needs to train and retrain just to remain relevant, innovative, and productive.

In addressing this challenge, the European Commission suggests taking a long term perspective. Commissioner Tibor Navracsics said that “beyond fixing current mismatches” Europe needs “to promote the full range of transversal skills that help people succeed in our fast-changing economies and become engaged citizens leading independent, fulfilling lives.”

Among the measures put forward is setting a benchmark of guaranteed skills for every European citizen, including literacy, numeracy and digital skills. This goes beyond the right to education to address skills, for every demographic group.

Another challenge the Commission is taking on is the harmonization of skill quality benchmarks, working to streamline expectations from qualifications. In time, the Commission suggests, a better grasp of Europe’s professional skill landscape should also inform immigration policy, addressing skill deficits but also brain-drain.

Finally, skill development needs ever tighter cooperation — monitoring, mapping, investment — by both public, private, and civic stakeholders. The European is thus promoting an emerging model of “coalitions” that allow different actors to contribute towards negotiated objectives.

 

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