Highest-paying and lowest-paying jobs grow most

Employment in the EU is growing, and the jobs that have grown most in numbers in recent years are at the opposite ends of the pay spectrum:  at the low end, cleaners and helpers providing services to buildings and personal services workers in the food and drinks industry, and at the high end, health professionals working in healthcare (see the blue rows in Table 1 below). These details come from the annual report of Eurofound’s European Jobs Monitor (EJM), which presents an analysis of developments in EU employment in the 2011–2015 period.

The EJM defines a job as a specific occupation within a specific economic sector. Table 1 lists the 10 jobs that employ the greatest number of people in the EU. The two largest-employing – sales workers in retail and teaching professionals in education, which together account for 10% of all employment in the EU – grew very modestly over 2011–2015 and growth was concentrated in the two years between 2013 and 2015.

Table 1: Top 10 jobs by employment in the EU, 2011–2015 

Blue-collar job loss

The greatest job losses occurred in blue-collar occupations in the agricultural and construction sectors (the yellow rows in the table). Numbers of skilled agricultural workers fell by more than half a million over 2011–2015; a disproportionate amount of this job loss took place in the large agricultural sectors of Poland and Romania.

Employment in construction continued to fall seven years on from the construction busts that accompanied the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, but the rate of job loss slowed significantly after 2013.

Fastest growth in top-paid jobs

The EJM classifies jobs in one of five wage categories (or quintiles) – from lowest-paying (quintile 1) to highest-paying (quintile 5). Since the late 1990s, the fastest employment growth has occurred in jobs in the top wage quintile in both recessionary and non-recessionary periods. This is the case also in 2011–2015, where four of the top 10 fastest-growing jobs were in quintile 5 (see Table 2). These are white-collar jobs in the information and communications technology (ICT), financial or professional services sectors.

Number one is ICT professionals in computer programming and consultancy, a job that has increased by 39% since 2011. This job, however, employs less than 1% of European workers. In fact, these high-paying, fastest-growing jobs account for a relatively small amount of total employment, so they have had a limited impact on the employment structure overall.

Table 2: 10 fastest-growing jobs in the EU, 2011–2015 


The top 10 fastest-declining jobs, shown in Table 3, are mainly low- and mid-paid jobs; no top-quintile jobs appear in the list. It includes three different construction-related jobs, reflecting the troubles of the sector. Two public administration jobs saw fast declines – protective services workers (social workers) and clerical workers. These jobs have suffered due to widespread public spending restrictions in most Member States in recent years. Declining employment of retail managers may relate to the vogue for ‘management delayering’, identified in many recent retail sector restructurings, whereby layers of middle management have been flattened or eliminated. The often-stated objective of such restructurings is to maximise the share of employees in direct customer service. The online migration of retail transactions may also be a factor.  

Table 3: 10 fastest-declining jobs in the EU, 2011–2015 

Services at the fore

The service sector accounted for nearly all net new employment in 2011–2015, and this growth occurred across all five wage quintiles (Figure 1). The greatest growth occurred in the top quintile, which added a net figure of over two million jobs. These were mainly health and education jobs in the public sector and jobs in private sector knowledge-intensive services, such as media, ICT, consulting, advertising, financial, legal services and accounting.

Figure 1: Employment shifts (in thousands) by broad sector and wage quintile, 2011–2015


The chart also shows there was net job growth in top-quintile jobs in manufacturing and construction, even as employment declined in each of the other four quintiles. This indicates an upskilling of the workforce, especially in manufacturing. Here employment growth was concentrated amongst science and engineering professionals and, to a lesser extent, business and administrative professionals. Employment shrank in more traditional blue-collar occupations in manufacturing and, to an even greater extent, in construction. These jobs are mainly found in quintiles 2 and 3. The primary sectors – agriculture and mining – shed employment in the bottom two quintiles.

Further reading

The 2015 EJM annual report includes more details on shifts in the employment structure. It also introduces a new set of indicators on the task content, methods and tools used at work in the present day and uses these to give a detailed account of what Europeans do at work and how they do it.

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