Employment and recruitment activity in the European Union significantly decreased during the economic crisis (2008-2012), leaving low-skilled workers overtaken by medium-skilled ones, while flexible job contracts mushroomed, a fresh report from the European Commission showed.

The European Vacancy and Recruitment Report 2014 published on Monday (23 June) shed new light on the impact of the economic crisis on the labour market, and especially on the most vulnerable, unskilled and least educated workers.

Hiring prospects became twice as bad in the recession years for the low-skilled workers in all age groups, but less for those under 30, the report notes.

Low skilled workers in construction and industry experienced the sharpest decline in employment, especially in 2009, when hirings fell for everybody, including managers and senior officials, the figures show.

The phenomenon touched all major occupational groups, the study stresses, while the occupations which saw the biggest rise in recruitment activity are either those employing high-skilled workers: software and sales professionals as well as health services workers. Health, teaching, administration and engineering were ranked among the “top 25 occupations” for employee growth in 2011 and 2012.

Looking for a job in “agriculture, forestry or fishery” can also prove very successful too, since this area has brought about 1.2 million hirings in Europe.

László Andor, the European Commissioner for Employment, expressed concern about the latest data.

“Employment prospects for those with poor education are dire unless they acquire the right set of skills and competences sought by employers. We must urgently strengthen support for transitions on the labour market, in particular through the Youth Guarantee. We also need to invest in training and career development schemes addressing the lower skilled,” he said.

As expected, vacancy rates were higher for Northern European countries during and after the economic crisis, while hiring opportunities deteriorated in all countries for the unemployed between 2008 and 2012.

Contract types

The researchers have also focused on the flexible type of contracts that have mushroomed during the recession: part-time and temporary jobs increased by four and three percentage points respectively, bringing the first to 46% and the second 59% between 2008 and 2012 on average for the European Union.

In 2012, the reports stresses, “over half of hirings across all occupational groups (except ‘legislators and managers’) were on temporary contracts and even over 70% in ‘elementary occupations’ and skilled agricultural and fishery workers.”

Most of these temporary contracts are involuntary, ”showing that jobseekers are forced to accept temporary or part-time positions,” the Commission notes, a recurring problem since the start of the crisis.

The statistics also showed that the higher the employment protection in a country, the higher the increase in such flexible types of contracts, as was the case in Spain, Sweden and France.

“Economy has to serve the people”

The Social Platform (SP), a network of NGOs working in the social sector, also reacted to the report, a reminder that “economy has to serve the people”.  

The Platform denounced the fact that while the European focus has been on economic growth after the crisis, involuntary part-times and temp jobs, zero-hour contract jobs and attempts to replace real jobs with traineeships “have become characteristic in the EU”, creating in work poverty, undermining  work-life balance and impacting gender equality and social protection.

“Europe’s sole focus on economic growth since the crisis has led to unacceptably high rates of unemployment and a degradation in the quality of employment, with 9.4% of employed people now living under the poverty threshold. This is unacceptable; the economy has to serve the people. Europe needs more job creation also for lower skilled workers, but it must be quality and sustainable employment,” Heather Roy,  the president of Social Platform, told EurActiv.