Employability is defined by the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) in its Skills Panorama Glossary as:
a combination of factors (such as job-specific skills and soft skills) which enable individuals to progress towards or enter into employment, stay in employment and progress during their careers.
This concept is set out as one of the four pillars of the European Employment Strategy, first adopted by Member States in 1997. It aims to prevent long-term unemployment and to facilitate access to the labour market, including through employment guidelines aimed at developing training and skills, combating age barriers, and reviewing tax and benefit systems.
In the Lisbon Strategy 2000–2010 and the Europe 2020 strategy for more growth and jobs, higher employability is seen as a precondition for achieving an increased employment rate, whereby ‘employability’ is translated into:
- improving and adapting general and vocational training to new conditions and forms of work;
- the implementation of lifelong learning principles;
- the definition of specific targets for educational levels.
The Europe 2020 strategy, for instance, aims by 2020 to increase the share of the population aged 30–34 years having completed tertiary education from 31% to at least 40%; and to reduce the rate of early school leavers from 15% to 10%.
EU employment policy aims to increase the employability of the workforce in a range of ways. Its skills policy rests on the new Skills Agenda for Europe, which was adopted by the European Commission on 10 June 2016. The agenda aims to strengthen human capital, employability and competitiveness, and includes 10 actions to make the appropriate training, skills and support available to people in the EU. These 10 actions are designed to:
- improve the quality and relevance of training and other ways of acquiring skills;
- make skills more visible and comparable;
- improve information and understanding of trends and patterns in demands for skills and jobs (skills intelligence) to enable people make better career choices, find good quality jobs and improve their life chances.
Increasing the employability of young people is seen as a key policy focus for the EU, and the European Commission has developed a strategy for the development of entrepreneurial skills in education, which it believes will help contribute to the employability of young people in particular, as well as supporting new business creation. In October 2017, the Commission issued a recommendation on a European framework for quality and effective apprenticeships (PDF). Its overall objective is to increase the employability and personal development of apprentices and to contribute to the development of a highly skilled and qualified workforce, responsive to labour market needs. The Commission also notes that while most apprentices are young learners, apprenticeships are also increasingly being offered to older workers to gain a qualification that improves their employability and opportunities for career development. Overall, it maintains that improving the quality and effectiveness of apprenticeships should lead to higher levels of skills, employability and productivity.
A 2012 European Commission study on the employability of young graduates found that, while educational attainment is an important determinant for working full time, it does not play a role in the likelihood of having a permanent contract. It also found that, in general, having a vocational-oriented degree and/or working during studies did not affect significantly the probability of having a job. However, for a few countries, these two factors were important and working while studying proved to be a more significant factor than focusing solely on the degree.