Skills, learning and employability – Skills shortages and public policy responses - Q2 2014

Report
Published
29 June 2015
Authors: 
Cabrita, Jorge

Abstract

European area of skills and qualifications

Skills and qualifications are an important aspect of Europe 2020, the EU’s growth and jobs strategy. The strategy states that investment in skills is an important part of the ‘desired inclusive growth’, and that it should be possible for a worker to acquire and develop new skills throughout their lifetime. This is seen as necessary to promote longer working lives across the EU.

The European Commission regards its Agenda for new skills and jobs as one of its flagship initiatives. The scheme aims to create the conditions for ‘modernising labour markets by empowering people through the acquisition of new skills’. It wants to enable the workforce ‘to adapt to new conditions and potential career shifts, reduce unemployment and raise labour productivity’.

Public consultation

The public consultation on the European area of skills and qualifications ended on 15 April 2014. The aim of the consultation was to collect the views of stakeholders, including social partners, on problems faced by learners and workers with regard to:

  • the transparency and recognition of their skills and qualifications when moving within and between EU Member States;
  • the adequacy of the related European policies and instruments;
  • the potential benefits of developing a European area of skills and qualifications.

The consultation also posed a number of questions, including:

  • how to place a stronger focus on higher and more relevant skills;
  • how to further strengthen links between education/training, mobility and the labour market;
  • how to make rules and procedures clearer for the recognition of skills and qualifications for further learning.

Views of the social partners

The main European level social partners’ organisations contributed to the consultation. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) put its focus on the ‘form’ in which the consultation took place and the purpose of a European area of skills and qualifications. BUSINESSEUROPE, meanwhile, highlighted the content and outcomes of the consultation. Both called for greater involvement from social partners in the design and implementation of any qualification and recognition tools for educational and training.

On 18 March 2014, ETUC and the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) adopted a joint position largely supporting the European Commission’s efforts (383 KB PDF). The position paper states that helping to promote mobility and the recognition of education and training contributes to skills development and employability. In turn, this also promotes integration or reintegration into work, learning and training. However, the parties point out that the consultation should also have focused on how those tools ‘can contribute to the employment of students and job seekers in the ongoing economic and financial crisis’. The paper pointed to a lack of social dialogue in the development of qualification, recognition and transparency tools for education and training, both at a national and European level.

On 26 March 2014, BUSINESSEUROPE released a position paper setting out its response to the consultation, in which it argued for putting extra emphasis on learning outcomes and employability in education and training systems at all levels. This, it claims, would ‘facilitate the transparency and recognition of qualifications, enhance quality and foster mobility in Europe’. According to BUSINESSEUROPE, the consultation should not seek to ‘create new concepts and initiatives’ but focus instead on the appropriate implementation and development of synergies between the various existing tools for the transparency and recognition of qualifications achieved through vocational education and training and higher education pathways.

Skills shortages reported across the EU

Data from a range of national sources, including statistics and surveys, point to a growing skills shortage – at least from the employers’ point of view. In its Voice of Small Business Index report (425 KB PDF), the UK’s Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said firms were reporting a growing shortage of skills in the workplace. Almost a third of the surveyed firms reported that skills shortages were hampering growth. The figures were highest for the construction and computer services sectors. John Allan, FSB’s National Chair, said skills shortages were an increasing concern for a rising number of businesses. He said that while skills shortages might help to boost the wage bargaining power of workers with the right skills, it could pose a risk to the momentum of economic growth in the country.  

A Manpower survey covering over 37,000 firms in 42 countries found that 45% of Hungarian employers had reported shortages of specialised skilled workers. More than half of employers in Hungary (51%) claimed that a lack of appropriate labour had contributed to loss of competitiveness in 2014 (in Hungarian), compared to the 45% who said they had experienced a loss of competitiveness in 2013.

Meanwhile Norway’s first ‘competence barometer’ report (in Norwegian, 1.67 MB PDF) highlighted similar problems. The barometer, developed by the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education on behalf of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO), revealed that more than 50% of the NHO member companies experienced problems with recruiting employees ‘with the correct/requested qualifications’. For 15%, the recruitment challenges were considerable. Companies looking to recruit engineers, skilled craftsmen and other technicians faced the biggest challenge.

Public policy developments

Ireland: Skills and learning overhaul

The Irish government introduced two important changes in education, training and apprenticeships in the first half of 2014. In June, the Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn, and the Minister for State for Training and Skills, Ciarán Cannon, launched the five-year strategy for further education and training (3.09 MB PDF). The strategy includes the streamlining of 33 Vocational Educational Committees into 16 Education and Training Boards (ETBs) and the creation of SOLAS, the Further Education and Training Authority (this replaces the training agency, FÁS, which has been abolished).

The document sets out the following strategic goals:

  • addressing the current and future needs of learners, jobseekers, employers and employees and contributing to national economic development;
  • supporting the active inclusion of people of all abilities in society with special reference to literacy and numeracy;
  • providing high quality education and training programmes and meeting the appropriate national and international quality standards;
  • planning and funding the provision of further education and training (FET) on the basis of objective analysis of needs and evidence of social and economic impact;
  • ensuring a valued learning path leading to agreed employment, career, developmental, personal and social options.

On 30 June 2014, Ruairí Quinn published an Apprenticeship Implementation Plan (480 KB PDF), which followed on from the review of apprenticeships in Ireland (see EurWORK’s Quarterly update on ‘Skills, learning and employability’– Q2 2014). It provides for the appointment in July 2014 of a new Apprenticeship Council, which will oversee the development of the new apprenticeship system. The Council will have representatives from business, trade unions, further and higher education bodies and the Department of Education and Skills and will be hosted by SOLAS.

Malta: Employment policy aims to reduce labour market friction

Labour market friction in Malta is being tackled by the National Employment Policy (3.04 MB PDF), which was launched in April 2014. The aim is to reduce the friction that prevents the labour market from functioning to its full potential. The policy proposes various initiatives to upgrade the skills of the workforce and contribute to more productive jobs, among them the setting up of the eSkills Malta Foundation, which will support the development of the country’s ICT sector. The New Skills for New Jobs initiative, meanwhile, will identify emerging trends at sectoral level and anticipate the corresponding skills required. The aim is to bridge the gap between education and work.

Romania: Draft law on recognition of informally acquired skills

The Romanian Ministry of Labour has issued a new draft law on procedures to stimulate employment. The draft includes a chapter on ‘Evaluation of professional competences acquired in ways other than formal’. The idea is to set up an assessment system to certify the skills used at work but acquired in informal ways. It is expected that it will increase people’s employability and make the measures to boost employment more attractive for job seekers and employers.

Lithuania: Cooperation between employers and universities

The Lithuanian Confederation of Industrialists (LPK), the country’s main employer organisation, has been very active in formalising cooperation with higher education institutions. In April, it signed an agreement with the Lithuanian University Rectors’ Conference. The parties agreed to cooperate in ensuring the high quality of courses and that they matched the economic needs of the country.

In May, LPK and representatives from Lithuanian colleges discussed possibilities for the training of highly qualified professional graduates and adopted a resolution concerning cooperation between the two parties, and prospects for the Lithuanian higher education sector. This is in the context of the reorganisation of professionals’ training sought by Lithuanian businesses.

About this article

This article is based mainly on contributions from Eurofound’s network of national correspondents. Further resources on skills, learning and employability can be obtained from Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) and European Company Survey (ECS).

For further information, contact Jorge Cabrita: jca@eurofound.europa.eu

 

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    Skills, learning and employability – Skills shortages and public policy responses - Q2 2014

    Authors: 
    Cabrita, Jorge

    This article presents some of the most notable developments and research findings on skills, lifelong learning and employability in the EU during the second quarter of 2014. The European area of skills and qualifications, EU skill shortages, streamlining further education and reducing labour market friction are the main focus of the report.

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