Study reveals increasing skills shortages

A study by the Bulgarian Industrial Association found that decreasing skill levels among workers was affecting the ability of companies to recruit staff. Large numbers of people were available to work in roles needing only lower levels of educational attainment but there recruitment problems in sectors with a need for skilled workers and managers. The professional and qualification structure of the labour force was did not to match the real demands of the labour market.


A recent study by the Bulgarian Industrial Association (BIA) revealed worrying skills shortages in the country (BIA, 2010). The study looked at the trends in educational and vocational qualification structure in Bulgaria in 2005–2009, and their impact on the labour force at national, sector and regional level.

The 2010 study was based on secondary statistical analyses of labour market data from the National Statistical Institute (NSI), National Social Security Institute (NSSI) and Eurostat.

The work was carried out as part of a project entitled Development of a Workforce Competence Assessment System by Sectors and Branches 2009–2013, known as CASSY for short. BIA undertook the study under the Human Resource Development Operational Programme in partnership with the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB) and the Confederation of Labour Podkrepa (Podkrepa CL).

Other BIA surveys (BIA 2011, 2012) mentioned in this article carried out under the CASSY framework were based on the responses to questionnaires from samples which included 1,343 managers/human resource managers and 1,278 middle level managers in 1,380 enterprises.

The 2010 study and the two questionnaires are available in Bulgarian from the National Network for Competence Assessment.

Key findings

Sectoral employment of graduates

The distribution of the employed population by economic activity found by the BIA study indicated a structure in which most of employees worked in the state administration, services and trade (see table below). The analysis shows that the trade sector (32.7%), including retail and wholesale, attracted by far the highest share of graduate labour in 2009. The sector attracting the next highest share of graduates was restaurant management (15.9%), followed by buildings and construction (5.7%).

Employment of graduates with secondary and tertiary education by economic activity (%)

Economic activities



Retail trade



Restaurant management



Wholesale trade



Buildings and construction



Manufacture of clothes



Manufacture of food products



Security and investigation






Note: based on NSSI data for insured persons

Source: BIA (2010)

Inefficient occupational and qualification structure

According to the BIA study, the professional qualification structure of employees was inefficient and distorted due to the concentration of employees in those occupational groups requiring lower qualifications and lower levels of education and training. Most of the employed fell within the occupational classes ‘service and sales workers’ (16.2%), ‘elementary occupations’ 14.6%), and ‘plant and machine operators and assemblers’ (11.8%) (Figure 1).

Among the most common occupations found by the survey were shop assistants and suppliers (23%), drivers (11%), waiters and barmen (11%), security guards (10%), accountants (9%), teachers (8%), cleaners (7%) and construction workers (6%).

Figure 1: Employment by occupational classes (%)

Figure 1: Employment by occupational classes (%)

Source: BIA (2010)

Shortage of qualified personnel

The managers participating in the survey considered that about 20% of their employees lacked the required knowledge, skills and competences. According to its results most of the highly skilled workers holding key jobs were at pre-retirement age. At the same time those surveyed claimed there was a severe shortage of qualified people to replace them.

According to the survey, many of the graduates had taken degrees in subjects that were not needed in the labour market. One in three university graduates in Bulgaria was employed in low-skilled jobs, while at the same time, Bulgarian businesses were encountering difficulties finding skilled workers (79%) and managers (72%).

Motivation for training

The survey findings also seemed to suggest businesses were failing to invest in the development of their employees. According to the survey, in 2009 about half of the organisations questioned invested less than 1% of total expenditure on training, around a quarter allocated about 3% of total expenditure to training, while just 18% allocated 5–10% of expenditure.

According to the managers, employee participation in training was motivated mainly by:

  • possibilities of increase remuneration (70%);
  • increased job security (39%);
  • professional and career development (33%).

Obtaining a professional certificate and learning transferable competencies remained at the bottom of the list of reasons to train.

High cost of training

According to respondents, employee training was hindered primarily by a lack of money and the high cost of training services (56.3%). More than half (53%) of those who replied also highlighted a lack of appropriate training providers able to organise modern training in line with the requirements of the labour market. Lack of employee motivation was cited by 38.6% of respondents to the survey (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Obstacles to staff training

Figure 2: Obstacles to staff training

Source: BIA (2011)


The BIA project identified an ongoing trend towards greater gaps between the labour force qualifications and labour market needs and a shortage of qualified labour. The BIA researchers concluded that these developments do not fit in with Bulgaria’s commitments to the Europe2020 strategy. They propose a number of policy options and measures to deal with the issue including:

  • improvements in government policy on the development of the secondary and tertiary educational system;
  • better cooperation between business and universities and vocational schools;
  • increased investment in company training;
  • comprehensive policy for the development of lifelong learning.


BIA (2010), Study of the labour force educational and vocational qualification structure at national, sectoral and regional level in 2005–2009 [in Bulgarian], Sofia.

BIA (2011), Questionnaire survey of labour force competences, professional qualification and educational level. Part 1. Enterprises – 2010 [in Bulgarian], Sofia.

BIA (2012), Questionnaire survey of motivation related to labour force qualification, education and professional realisation at company, regional and branch level – 2011 [in Bulgarian], Sofia.

Nadezhda Daskalova, ISTUR

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