EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Skills, learning and employability

Education and training systems must generate new skills, to respond to the nature of the new jobs which are expected to be created, as well as to improve the adaptability and employability of adults already in the labour force.

European Commission, Communication on ‘New skills for new jobs’

Jump to: Training, Work organisation, Lifelong learning, Employability

Skills are the passport to employment; the better skilled an individual, the more employable they are. Good skills also tend to secure better-quality jobs and better earnings.

The availability of a skilled workforce is crucial to business activity. Having workers with the right skills enables businesses to start, to grow and to compete. The goal of a competitive European economy with high employment hinges on a skilled workforce that can produce the goods and offer the services the global marketplace demands.

Developing people’s skills is crucial in order to promote access to employment, improve the quality of work and employment, and provide employers with workers equipped to meet the demands of changing technologies and markets. Hence, investment in skills has become a key element of EU employment strategy, including the Europe 2020 growth strategy and the European Commission’s 2012 Employment Package. 

Analysis of data from the European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) and European Company Survey (ECS) enables Eurofound to provide extensive knowledge about skills in the European workplace, including training, work organisation and skills mismatches. EurWORK provides information on several topics related to skills, outlined below.


Training is important for developing and expanding workers’ skills, to enable them to adapt to new job requirements and to be employable throughout their lives. Evidence suggests that the availability of training opportunities at work also increases overall job quality.

However, the EWCS indicates that the percentage of workers receiving training paid for by their employers is relatively low at 34%, even though it has increased from 26% in 2005, and is mainly targeted at high-skilled and highly educated workers. Similarly, the ECS shows that in 2013 the proportion of employees involved in training activities was lower than 20% in more than half of European establishments.

Read: Preparing for the upswing: training and qualification during the crisis

EWCS findings on skills and training in the Survey Mapping Tool

Work organisation

As well as providing training, employers can promote skills development among employees by implementing better work organisation and related practices (such as human resources practices). More flexible work organisation with decentralised management structures supports greater autonomy, which in turn provides more and better work-based learning and skills development opportunities for workers. Work organisation systems that aid career progression promote skills development and employability of workers, as career progression often involves increasingly complex tasks and therefore requires new skills.

Read: Work organisation and innovation

Innovations in work organisation have the potential to optimise production processes in companies and improve employees’ overall experience of work. This report explores the links between innovations in work organisation – under the broader label of high performance work practices (HPWPs) – and the potential benefits for both employees and organisations.


Lifelong learning

Lifelong learning is a broad concept that conceptualises education as flexible, diverse and available at different times and places throughout the course of an individual’s life. The changing economic environment and the transition to a knowledge-based economy in Europe have led to an increasing emphasis on lifelong learning in employment policy. New technologies in the workplace and the rising skill intensity of jobs mean that the skills profiles of occupations are never stable. Workers need to maintain and develop their skills throughout their careers to keep pace. This is particularly important in the context of population ageing and the need to keep older workers economically active and in work longer. Continuous development of skills and competences also contributes to workers’ job satisfaction and the quality of work.

Read: Role of governments and social partners in keeping older workers in the labour market

With the average age of the population rising, people aged 55–64 make up an increasing share of workers in Europe. This demographic shift, as well as ongoing threats to the sustainability of national welfare and pension systems, has increased pressure for reforms to encourage longer careers. This report maps initiatives at national or sectoral level taken by governments and social partners to keep older workers in the labour market. Some measures involve financial incentives to work longer while others look at ways to enhance working conditions.



Employability – the ability of an individual to gain and hold a job – is strongly related to the individual’s skills, the continuous enhancement of those skills, and the skills development opportunities available. The Europe 2020 strategy sees higher employability levels as a precondition to achieving the target of an increased employment rate, whereby employability is an outcome of:

  • improving and adapting general and vocational training to new conditions and forms of work;
  • implementing lifelong learning principles;
  • defining specific targets for educational levels.

Read: Eurofound (2016) - Sustainable work throughout the life course: National policies and strategies
European countries face the challenges of ageing populations supported by shrinking workforces, more precarious types of employment, and in many cases, a decreasing number of jobs in the wake of the economic crisis. As a result, the issue of how to enable more people to participate in the labour market and to continue to do so until an older age has become a key policy issue in all EU Member States.


Read: Employment security and employability: A contribution to the flexicurity debate

In the current EU debate on labour market and employment policies, the concept of ‘flexicurity’ – the balance between the flexibility and security needs of employers and employees – has emerged as a central issue. This report puts forward four key indicators to be taken into account in the discussion on flexicurity: objective job insecurity, subjective job insecurity, employability and vulnerability. The analysis is based on findings from the fourth European Working Conditions Survey carried out across 31 countries, including the 27 EU Member States.