EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Occupational mobility

The mobility of workers between different occupations is a key objective in the EU’s pursuit of a European labour market with a high level of employment. This goes back to the origins of the European Community.

The predecessor of the Treaties of Rome was the Treaty of Paris which set up the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951, designed to create a common market in coal and steel. The structure of the ECSC was based not on stability of employment but, on the contrary, on the adaptation of workers to economic change: occupational mobility. The creation of a common market in coal and steel meant closure of some plants and re-conversion of others. The ECSC provided help to support the re-conversion of enterprises and the redeployment of workers who lost their jobs, as well as helping workers search for work elsewhere or to retrain for other jobs. The idea was that workers ought not to have to bear the consequences of economic change, made inevitable by technical progress. The Paris Treaty gave the ECSC High Authority powers to finance substantial resettlement schemes, including free occupational training, with a specific remit to assist in the financing of housing for coal and steel workers. The ECSC came to an end in July 2002.

In recent years, the globalisation of markets and the technological revolution has brought about drastic and rapid changes in the relative importance of individual sectors and occupations in the economy. This means that more and more people will have to adapt to a change of job or career – almost certainly involving different skills – during their working life. In an attempt to address this issue, the Commission launched an Action Plan on Skills and Mobility in 2002 (COM (2002) 72), aimed at furthering the principle of free movement of workers , highlighting the importance of labour market mobility in advancing the European Employment Strategy, and opening up the European labour markets so that they are accessible for all.

As basic skills are a prerequisite for occupational mobility, the Commission emphasised the benefit of a cost-free access to acquisition of basic skills for everybody. Given the increasing importance of employment in a ‘knowledge based society’, the Commission put priority on information and communisation technologies (ICT) and suggested the adoption of EU-wide standards regarding the validation of ICT skills. Mobility would also be enhanced by the creation of a modular system for the accumulation of qualifications from different institutions and countries.

According to the Commission, better information should be given to girls and women about education, training and job opportunities in the areas of science and technology, which would help to overcome existing imbalances in terms of gender composition: a barrier to occupational mobility. Similarly, to overcome barriers to occupational mobility linked with social exclusion, there should be targets for educational achievement and better integration into education systems for young people with disabilities, people with learning difficulties, immigrants and people from ethnic minorities.

See also: Eures; European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training; European labour market; free movement of workers; professional qualifications; vocational training.

Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.
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