Official Journal of the European Union

C 128/74


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: New Skills for New Jobs Anticipating and matching labour market and skills needs’

COM(2008) 868 final

(2010/C 128/13)

Rapporteur: Vladimíra DRBALOVÁ

On 16 December 2008 the Commission decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the

Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: New Skills for New Jobs - Anticipating and matching labour market and skills needs

COM(2008) 868 final.

The Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 15 October 2009.

At its 457th plenary session, held on 4 and 5 November 2009 (meeting of 4 November 2009), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 141 votes to two with two abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.   In the EESC's view, the New Skills for New Jobs communication is a well-timed initiative. The Committee concurs with the need to build up capacity and a mechanism for forecasting skills vis-à-vis the needs of the labour market at national and EU level. Increasing skills at all levels is the sine qua non not only for reenergising the economy in the short term and for long-term development, but also for increasing productivity, for competitiveness and employment, and for ensuring equal opportunities and social cohesion. The forecasting of future labour market needs has its limits and so constant improvement of mechanisms and instruments is essential.

1.2.   The EESC agrees with the further improvements proposed by Cedefop on the matter of regular European skills forecasting. These include improving methods and databases and the concurrent updating of supply and demand forecasts so that imbalances can be analysed. At the same time, the Committee recommends that the definition of ‘skills’ be more fully worked out, given the differing practice in the Member States.

1.3.   However, it must be acknowledged that no tools exist to identify future needs accurately, and that in the context of globalisation, the actual global division of work is not stable over the medium term, whereas education takes place over a timeframe which most likely equates to this ‘medium term’.

1.4.   The EESC agrees with improving skills and tailoring them to current and future labour market needs. However, the utmost should be done to capitalise on the present potential of the labour market, to increase the adaptability of workers, improve current jobs, create new productive jobs and develop the potential of the new ‘green’ market.

1.5.   The Committee unreservedly supports the idea of partnership and collaboration between all interested parties. It particularly recognises the contribution of the social partners — as prime players in the labour market — and civil society. The Committee also stresses the need for closer collaboration and the coordination of activities at international level, especially where the ILO and OECD are concerned.

1.6.   The Committee lays particular stress on close and effective cooperation between educational establishments and businesses with a view to introducing constructive changes in education systems, cutting down the number of early school leavers, making technical subjects more attractive, improving apprenticeships, at the same time as forecasting trends in qualifications in demand on national labour markets and in the relevant skills, in order to boost the general EU employment rate, and adapting such systems better to industry practice. The Committee also stresses the importance of basic education, teacher training and improving systems of career development advice. Particular attention should be given to the specific needs of SMEs.

1.7.   In this context, the EESC points to recommendations adopted at the extraordinary EU employment summit held in Prague in May 2009. These were geared to improving skills, investing in education, supporting mobility within the EU, forecasting the demand for labour skills and meshing these better with the requirements of the labour market, and broadening the opportunities for good-quality apprenticeships and work experience.

1.8.   The Committee also welcomes the commitment undertaken by Member States at the May Council of education ministers to create a stronger European framework for tighter cooperation in education and training and to define four strategic goals to boost the employability and enterprise potential of all those receiving education and training. The European Qualifications Framework (EQF) (1) is particularly important in this context.

1.9.   The Committee has also welcomed the decision of the Swedish EU presidency to include a conference on New skills for new jobs in its programme of activities. This is taking place on 22-23 October 2009 and will focus on future labour market needs and the role of public employment services.

2.   Introduction

2.1.   The global financial crisis has thrown the EU economy into recession, dealing a harsh blow to Europe's labour markets and jobs. Unemployment is currently estimated at 9,4 % for 2009 and as high as 10,9 % in 2010.

2.2.   The European Commission has responded with a European Economic Recovery Plan (2) in which it put the emphasis on a concerted approach, laid down strategic goals and proposed a raft of measures in the four Lisbon Strategy priority areas.

2.3.   One area to have attracted EU recovery action has been the protection of jobs – and human resources – and support for enterprise. The European Commission has called for the launch of a wide-ranging European initiative to stimulate employment and has recommended, among other things, monitoring current and projected vacancies and better reacting to them by broadening and improving skills.

2.4.   The most important factor for growth and developing prosperity is the ability of countries to create good-quality job opportunities. The policy of creating job opportunities and growth rests on a number of cornerstones. A modern, inclusive, flexible and competitive labour market embraces a broad spectrum of activities and roles. In addition, the free movement of labour is one of the main pillars of the EU. The aim is to make it easier for people to work in other Member States and improve the job opportunities available, as well as to provide companies with a broader and more versatile pool of workers that are better adapted to the needs of the labour market.

2.5.   The conclusions of the 2009 EU Spring Council make abundantly clear the need to focus on improving the EU's capacity to increase skills at all levels and to forecast and accommodate the needs of the labour market. The participants also urged the Member States in no uncertain terms to implement Integrated Guideline no 24 and adapt their education and vocational training systems to the need for new skills.

2.6.   The extraordinary EU summit on employment held in Prague on 7 May 2009 adopted ten specific measures to address long-term and short-term challenges, intended to be introduced at national and European level in alliance with the social partners. Four of these measures bear on education, training, lifelong learning, apprenticeships, facilitating mobility, and better forecasting of skills and matching them to labour market needs.

3.   General comments

3.1.   In 2008, the Commission published its communication New Skills for New Jobs - Anticipating and matching labour market and skills needs  (3), in which, against the backdrop of the current crisis, it underscored the need to bolster human capital and employability by raising skills. The European Commission proposal seeks to improve the Union's capacity in evaluating and forecasting skills and better fitting them to the nature of newly created jobs.

3.2.   The Commission sets forth the first evaluation of skills in relation to labour market needs up to 2020, but also presents a systematic process for the monitoring, evaluation and early identification of future labour market needs. It will also address new ways of measuring skills through the PROGRESS and lifelong learning programmes.

3.3.   The Commission is mobilising current instruments to implement these processes effectively and at the same time engineering new ones to buttress or streamline the process. It emphasises the policy of flexicurity and implementing measures to raise skills. Among the newly proposed instruments are a ‘European Labour Market Monitor’, a standardised multilingual catalogue of trades and skills, and ‘Match and Map’, an instrument to make life easier for EURES users. The crucial role of the European Social Fund (ESF) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is also mentioned. The process of forecasting future labour market needs has its limits and so it is essential to constantly develop and improve mechanisms and instruments and at the same time monitor the take-up capacity of individual Member States.

3.4.   The Commission also quite rightly highlights the growing importance of transversal competences and soft skills such as team work and language and communication skills. Particular attention must be given to raising standards and levels attained in literacy and basic numeracy from an early age.

3.5.   One example of good practice appears to be the creation of Sector Skills Councils (SCC) on the basis of agreements between employers, educational institutions and other interested parties within individual sectors. The work of these councils can be linked into the sectoral social dialogue set-up, since the role of the social partners on this front is particularly important (4).

3.6.   At the Council of education ministers on 12 May 2009, the Member States undertook to work more closely on education and training. The priorities adopted underscore the salient role that education and vocational training must play in the broader debate on economic and social policies. The shared challenges are these: 1) ensuring a workforce that will have the right skills for tomorrow's jobs, 2) tackling the needs of an ageing society, and 3) greater global competition.

3.7.   The Council also adopted conclusions aimed at bolstering partnership between educational institutions and the social partners. An important facet of the role of education and training in social cohesion is the ability to equip people with knowledge, skills and competences that make it easier for them to get onto the job market and stay there. This is why the social partners, who are the main players in the labour market, have an important role.

4.   Facts and figures

4.1.   In the conclusions of its June 2008 meeting – Anticipating and matching labour market needs, with special emphasis on youth (a jobs and skills initiative) – the EU Council confirmed its call for a comprehensive assessment of the skills needed in Europe up to 2020 (5).

4.2.   Cedefop therefore conducted an analysis of skills needs for the period 2006 to 2020 (6) covering twenty-five EU countries plus Norway and Switzerland. The analysis forecasts the creation of 20,3 million additional jobs by 2020. A further eighty-five million jobs will come from ‘replacements’ (jobs freed up by those retiring or leaving the job market, which cannot actually be considered as newly created jobs). Services are expected to account for three quarters of all jobs in 2020.

4.3.   At present, almost 40 % of people are employed in jobs such as management, professional work or technical jobs that require higher-level skills. In the coming decade, continued growth is expected in jobs requiring high- or medium-level skills. An increase is also foreseen in some jobs where no or only lower levels of education are needed.

4.4.   If this trend continues, these changes will bring about a polarisation in the growth of jobs. This polarisation will result in dwindling demand for jobs involving simple routine tasks and requiring medium skill levels, although appropriately trained new workers will be in demand as a result of sizeable numbers of workers retiring.

4.5.   At the same time, higher qualifications are being demanded in all types of profession — including those at the bottom of the qualifications ladder. This tendency towards upskilling is driven in part by the very availability of skills. On the whole, the level of education has risen over the past ten years — the result, for instance, of people in many Member States opting to enter higher education and the older generation, generally with lower qualifications, retiring from the labour market.

4.6.   The Cedefop conclusions, however, unequivocally highlight the general and long-term rise in qualification levels for many or the majority of jobs. According to its forecasts, almost 91 % of vacancies in the period 2006 to 2020 will require higher or secondary education. The skills structure of the labour force as it presently stands will have to change in the decade to come, since ever more vacancies — up to fifty-five million — will require medium-level qualifications (including vocational training). Fewer than ten million jobs will be available for those with no or little education.

4.7.   The Eurostat statistics reveal that since 2000 the EU has been successful in creating good-quality jobs. There is also a positive correlation between employment figures for those with a university education and the growth in jobs. In most EU Member States, the employment rate for these people has increased more than the overall rise in employment. In Malta, for example, the employment rate for those with a university education has more than doubled since 2000, while total employment has grown by only 12 %. At the same time, the opposite trend of creating precarious jobs needs monitoring.

4.8.   There are a number of implications in the Cedefop findings:

Overall demand for skills will continue to increase.

Policies will have to make sure the workforce is adaptable to these demands. It will be helpful to know if bottlenecks in the labour market are merely temporary and transitory or are a long-term phenomenon requiring targeted measures.

Continuous training and lifelong learning must help to make sure that people's skills constantly keep abreast of structural changes in the labour market.

The number of young people entering the labour market in the coming decade is insufficient to meet all its requirements. This will have implications for education and training systems. Lifelong learning is fundamental.

However important education and training are to reacting better to labour market demands, they cannot solve the problem of over- or under-qualification.

It is important to have good skills assessment, to limit skills losses and to make the most of those that we have.

5.   Specific comments

5.1.   The Commission's aim is to ensure a match between the skills on offer and the requirements of the labour market. The removal of obstacles, including administrative barriers, to the free movement of workers in the EU, together with more transparent information on labour market trends, would help to promote occupational, sectoral and geographical mobility (7) and ensure a better match between people's skills and job opportunities. It is also important to strengthen transition mobility – i.e., easing the transition to a new and good-quality job when people are made redundant, by enabling them to benefit from the security (flexicurity).

5.2.   In its staff working document accompanying the communication (8), the Commission gives a definition of terms such as qualifications, skills, knowledge and competences. However, in practice there are great differences in the approach to these terms in the Member States. The Commission should spell out more clearly what it understands in its communication by skills.

5.3.   Europe had problems with skills even before the present crisis. Its institutions and company managers pointed out more that ten years ago that Europe did not produce, attract or retain as many scientists, engineers and IT specialists as its industry needed. Matters are coming to a head and the figures reveal a continuing inadequate interest in science disciplines on the part of the young. The lack of skills needed by the market in Europe is growing and is a time bomb on Europe's path to competitiveness. SMEs, in particular, will benefit from the right level of skills, better access to information and structural improvements.

5.4.   Immigrants from third countries may also benefit the Union's development, especially given the growing scarcity of jobs in many countries. The EU's new approach to economic migration from third countries and the influx of talent from other corners of the world can only be a stopgap solution. Only when the Blue Card is in use shall we know whether it will help Europe to prevail in the fight for talent. At the present time Europe only employs 2 % of highly qualified workers from third countries.

5.5.   With Europe now buffeted by turbulence, the lack of required skills calls for more attention and visibility. Moreover, Europe does actually have further potential in the medium and long term to create both new and ‘replacement’ jobs. Nevertheless, the net job creation forecast indicates a polarisation, with a big growth in jobs requiring higher skill levels.

5.6.   Cutting the number of workers at a time of shrinking demand is a very myopic solution. Building skills is a long-term and costly process, whether it involves formal education (primary, secondary and tertiary) or companies (company culture, specifics of the organisation, customer relations, and so on). Economic recovery would be impossible if companies had to contend with a shortage of adequately skilled workers.

5.7.   A foresighted and forward-looking scenario requires joint action by governments and the private sector:

Rechanneling ESF funding to training and re-skilling in the years 2007 to 2013

Initiating joint action and partnerships between the private and the public sectors

Introducing a joint policy to reduce the number of people leaving school early and to interest young people in maths and science and a career in engineering, information and communication technologies and environmental protection

Strengthening and developing the partnership between schools and universities at a high level via organised work placements that bring students, especially in their final months of study, into direct contact with the world of work for which their studies have equipped them

Supporting skills mobility within Europe

Reinforcing an innovative approach in education, including e-learning and distance learning

Tapping into the potential of excluded groups (due to poverty, unemployment, disabilities, discrimination), which would benefit from training, and for which significant funding is available to facilitate their re-integration

Managing immigration education.

5.8.   Europe must improve its Skills Pyramid (9) – literacy and basic skills, professional knowledge and GKE (Global Knowledge Economy) talents. The current skills pyramid in many countries is woefully inadequate to meet the EU's ambitions.

5.9.   If Europe is to produce, safeguard and maintain the skills it needs, it will have to implement a series of relevant measures acting on both the supply and the demand sides. The demand side will clearly be affected by the needs of growth sectors, long-term and rapidly evolving global and local priorities, as well as by other tendencies dictated by global resources or demographic development. On the supply side, the European work pool will be mostly shaped by demographic trends, low mobility and Europe's ability to come up with the skills it needs.

5.10.   The Committee stresses the importance of good-quality teacher training (10). The education and training of teachers must be linked into key policies in innovation, research and business. Part of the training teachers receive must enable them to better grasp changes in the labour market and the development of corresponding skills at all levels of education.

5.11.   The role of the social partners is crucial here. Collaboration between businesses and education establishments must spawn tangible results, especially in terms of setting school curricula and establishing a system of trades and qualifications at national level. These must reflect the demands employers have regarding the performance of specific tasks in the workplace. It is important that apprentices are properly trained, that young workers have placements and that needed trades are made more attractive. The Commission should first focus on tasks that have to be carried out in the workplace, and then on skills. The needs of small and large companies must be clearly distinguished.

5.12.   Europe will also have to take into account the impact that adapting to climate change will have on jobs. Global warming will have an effect on various aspects and processes of manufacturing. The European Commission is already working with a raft of analyses of the new concept of the low-carbon economy and the related creation of green jobs and eco industries. The first results reveal a meagre supply of data, inaccuracy and a great divergence in forecasts of how climate change will affect labour markets. The shift to a low-carbon economy must be seen as a long-term process during which labour markets will adapt gradually.

5.13.   The European Commission's communication focuses primarily on the creation of new jobs and improving skills for these new jobs. The EU must also make effective use of the current potential of the labour market and improve the skills and adaptability of workers who have lost their jobs or are in danger of doing so. Attention also needs to be given, therefore, to re-skilling, further training and lifelong learning. On the other hand, the EU must be capable of establishing a framework for creating productive, good-quality and well paid jobs.

5.14.   Initiatives to improve skills must also reflect the ambitions and needs of the individual. Education is fundamentally important to people's ability to make their own choices and to their possibilities for personal development. Where the labour market is concerned, the role of education also lies in communicating knowledge and skills to individuals, since these are vital to meeting constantly changing requirements and hence ensuring a high level of employability.

5.15.   Policies to improve skills and the adaptability of the workforce must be grounded in the principles of equality for all and non-discrimination. This means eradicating all existing obstacles in education and training systems, whether administrative or in the workplace. Those most adversely affected by these obstacles are particularly vulnerable groups such as older workers and people with disabilities.

5.16.   The conclusions of the Council of education ministers on 12 May 2009 also highlight the important role of the social partners. Within the European social dialogue, the European social partners focus in particular on education and training as they relate to labour market needs. In 2002, they together drafted a Framework of Actions for the Lifelong Development of Competencies and Qualifications and in 2006 an analysis of key elements in the labour market which will be the source of joint activities in their third work programme 2009-2010: Autonomous agreement on inclusive labour markets and report on employment.

5.17.   The Council conclusions also included an appeal to bolster the partnership with civil society and for all the relevant interested parties — companies, education establishments, public employment services and so on — to work together. Collaboration with the relevant NGOs and social initiatives could complement the traditional social dialogue.

5.18.   One of the biggest benefits of the Open Method of Coordination (OCM) in education and training at European level is the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), which should contribute to making qualifications more transparent and intelligible and hence to greater mobility in Europe.

5.19.   The European Social Fund (ESF) has proved to be an effective instrument where Europe's training needs are concerned. Improvement in the future can come from removing red tape and overlap with structural fund initiatives, as well as greater involvement of the social partners.

5.20.   The Reference Levels of European Average Performance (European reference levels) will be the instrument for measuring progress. The Member States have agreed that in 2020:

at least 15 % of adults should take part in lifelong learning programmes

the percentage of fifteen-year-old pupils that have difficulties with reading, maths and sciences should be below 15 %

at least 40 % of those aged between 30 and 34 should have completed tertiary education

fewer than 10 % of people should drop out of education and training

at least 95 % of children between four and the age for compulsory schooling should take part in preschool learning.

Brussels, 4 November 2009.

The president of the European Economic and Social Committee

Mario SEPI

(1)  Recommendation 2008/C 111/01 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the establishment of the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning.

(2)  A European Economic Recovery Plan, COM(2008) 800 final of 26.11.2008.

(3)  Communication from the Commission: New Skills for New Jobs - Anticipating and matching labour market and skills needs, COM(2008) 868 final, of 16.12.2008.

(4)  OJ C 277 of 17.11.2009, p. 15.

(5)  Cedefop, Panorama Series 160, Skill needs in Europe (2008).

(6)  It should be noted that the study was drafted before the financial and economic crisis and so takes no account of its impact.

(7)  OJ C 228 of 22.9.2009, p. 14.

(8)  SEC(2008) 3058: Commission staff working document accompanying communication COM(2008) 868 final.

(9)  Background paper prepared for the European Business Summit 2009, INSEAD (The business school for the world) in collaboration with Microsoft and FEB (Federation of Enterprises in Belgium).

(10)  OJ C 151 of 17.6.2008, p. 41.