Czech Republic: Matching school-leavers' skills to employers' needs

Recent research carried out in the Czech Republic indicates that what employers are looking for nowadays are workers who are willing to learn new things, can interpret work instructions and are prepared to take responsibility. However, employers say that today's school-leavers perform poorly on most of these measures and are not as competent as their counterparts of a decade ago.

Research into competencies needed by employers

The subject of school-leavers' skills is topical, especially in view of the high unemployment among young people. While the unemployment rate among young people aged 20–29 rose in 2008 and 2009 and then stabilised, the unemployment rate among under-19-year olds increased steadily between 2009 and 2013.

A research project, 'Employers’ requirements and school-leavers’ readiness – Comparison 2004–2013', carried out by the National Institute for Education (NUV) and funded by the European Social Fund and the Czech government, primarily focuses on the key competencies that can be used both at work and in other spheres of life. Unlike occupational competencies, these may overlap with other, non‑vocational contexts. Acquisition of these key competencies gives workers greater flexibility and increases their opportunities in the labour market.

Objectives of the research

The research focused on two dimensions of the key competencies necessary for school-leavers to find employment in the labour market.

First, the importance of each key competency was assessed separately for different educational groups of school-leavers. The degree of importance reflects the abilities and skills that employers demand of school-leavers. The change in how well school-leavers met those demands were compared for two periods, 2004–2007 and 2013.

Second, the degree of acquisition of these key competencies required to find employment in the labour market was assessed, again for different educational groups of schoo- leavers. The research aimed to identify the specific ways in which school-leavers with different levels of education might be ill-prepared to enter the labour market.

Finally both dimensions were linked to assess whether school-leavers had or had not acquired the competencies that employers consider important.

Methodology

The data were collected for the purposes of the comparative study in two waves; however, this was not a longitudinal study and so the employers in each wave were not the same. The target groups of both waves of the sample survey were both private and public employers. The sample also included some self-employed people. The employers surveyed carried out their activities in the secondary, tertiary or quaternary (research and development) sectors. 

Data for the first wave of the survey were collected throughout the years 2004–2007. The final survey sample of 932 respondents (employers) from the first wave is representative according to the following criteria: prevailing branch of activity (NACE), territorial aspect and size of the company. The second wave of the survey took place at the turn of 2012 and 2013. Respondents were contacted by an e-mail letter and the final size of the survey sample in the second wave is 1,136 respondents (employers). The survey sample is representative according to the same criteria as the sample of the first wave. 

The content of the second survey is a follow-up of the first one, which enables a highly valuable comparison over time. Changes in the inquiry instrument were only marginal.

Evaluation of key competencies

The analysis of the importance of key competencies clearly illustrates what employers demand of each educational category of school-leavers, and how these have changed over time. It is evident that demands increase in line with the school-leavers’ level of education. Table 1 also shows that at each completed level of education, importance is attached to the competencies that are largely associated with the estimated job content of a given level of education.

Table 1: Employers' assessment of importance of workers' competencies by completed level of education, 2004–2007 and 2013

Key competencies

School-leavers

seeking apprenticeships

Secondary school- leavers

University graduates

2004–2007

2013

2004–2007

2013

2004–2007

2013

%

%

%

%

%

%

Communication skills

22

16

60

58

81

88

Taking responsibility

40

41

62

64

81

87

Ability to solve a problem

34

29

62

60

81

87

Reading and comprehension of work instructions

45

43

69

73

75

86

Ability to make a decision

27

21

53

51

79

82

Willingness to learn

42

41

68

65

79

80

Literacy in use of information

20

12

58

47

78

76

Computer literacy

16

9

63

57

78

75

Adaptability and flexibility

35

30

56

51

72

71

Team work skills

40

40

59

55

73

68

Work with figures

19

15

46

45

63

64

Leadership skills

7

4

29

24

74

62

Proficiency in foreign languages

7

2

30

14

67

50

Source: Employers’ requirements and school-leavers’ readiness – Comparison 2004–2013

Table 1 shows that the competences most sought by employers from school-leavers starting apprenticehips were the ability to take responsibility and willingness to learn, read and comprehend work instructions correctly. In contrast, employers place much less emphasis on the ability to use computer technologies, on information, communication and leadership skills and on knowledge of foreign languages. Secondary school-leavers should primarily be willing to learn new things, understand work instructions and be able to solve problems independently. Demands on university graduates were high in all areas, particularly communication skills, willingness to take responsibility, ability to solve problems independently and take decisions independently.

A time comparison shows that by 2013, employers’ demands regarding school-leavers seeking apprenticeships or school-leavers with a secondary school-leaving exam had decreased for the overwhelming majority of competencies. The most noticeable decreases were in the perceived importance of proficiency in foreign languages, ability to use information and demands for adaptability and flexibility. The demands placed on secondary school-leavers increased markedly only in reading and understanding work instructions. Employers’ demands regarding university graduates were only significantly lower for proficiency in foreign languages (equal to lower educational groups) and teamwork skills. A rather unexpected finding was the relatively low expectations for knowledge of foreign languages which have decreased further over time between the two periods studied and across all education levels.

Employers’ demands also differ by sector of activity. For school-leavers seeking apprenticeships, the least demanding employers in 2013 were in the secondary sector and the most demanding were employers in the tertiary sector, particularly in terms of the ability to make independent decisions, take responsibility and willingness to learn. The differences between sectors in terms of the demands concerning secondary school and university leavers were not so great.

Key competencies lacking

Employers in 2013 said the abilities most often lacked by school-leavers were the ability to read and comprehend work instructions, willingness to learn and willingness to take responsibility. In 2004–2007, employers marked all three competencies as crucially important for engaging school-leavers seeking apprenticeships and those who do not have them may encounter substantial barriers to labour market entry. The spectrum of underdeveloped competencies was similar among secondary school-leavers and university graduates; however, secondary school-leavers were found to possess lower communication skills, whereas university graduates had lower leadership skills. The key discrepancy between employers’ requirements and the level of competencies among secondary school-leavers was in the ability to solve problems. For university graduates, employers in 2013 said many lacked the ability to make a decision independently, solve problems and take responsibility for their own decisions.

Table 2: Five competencies employers most frequently evaluated as insufficiently acquired, (2013)

 

School-leavers

seeking apprenticeships

Secondary school-leavers

University graduates

1.

Willingness to learn

Take responsibility

Take responsibility

2.

Reading and comprehension of work instructions

Communication skills

Ability to make a decision

3.

Take responsibility

Ability to solve a problem

Ability to solve a problem

4.

Ability to solve a problem

Ability to make a decision

Leadership skills

5.

Communication skills

Proficiency in foreign languages

Proficiency in foreign languages

Source: Employers’ requirements and school-leavers’ readiness – Comparison 2004–2013

Note: Competencies in bold letters are those the employers considered most important for employment of school-leavers at given levels of education in the labour market 

Commentary

According to employers, in the period covered by the study all the key competencies have decreased among school-leavers seeking apprenticeships and secondary school-leavers, except for knowledge of foreign languages and computer literacy. Among university graduates, the degree of the overwhelming majority of competencies has decreased except for proficiency in foreign languages, ability to solve problems and literacy in use of information. However, differences between both waves of the survey are not as marked as among school-leavers with lower education levels.

The general worsening of the level of key competencies was mostly perceived by employers in the secondary sector. In the Czech Republic, employers in this sector in particular suffer from a lack of qualified labour. The lowest decrease in the evaluation of school-leavers’ quality and readiness was reported by employers in the quaternary sector, although here the demands placed on school-leavers in both periods under review and across all levels of education were, on average, higher.  

In the Czech Republic, cooperation between employers and institutions of formal education is still not fully developed. The findings of this study show that employers consider that the quality of school-leavers is declining. The solution, ideally, is that employers should take an active part in the preparation of potential employees through various forms of cooperation, such as offering training (including vocational training) , expert lectures, placements and targeted exchange of experience.

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Eurofound welcomes feedback and updates on this regulation

Add new comment