Skills are the new currency in the changing world of work

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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By 2025 about 48% of all job opportunities in Europe will need to be filled by people with qualifications beyond high school level. 85% of all EU jobs will need at least a basic level of digital skills.

Indeed we don’t even need to look so far ahead into the future. Currently, skills among the EU’s workforce fall about one-fifth short of what is needed for workers to carry out their jobs at their highest productivity level.

A sizeable share of the EU workforce – four in 10 adult employees – feel that their skills are underutilised while about four in 10 EU employers struggle to find the right skills when recruiting[1].

The skills gap has a significant economic impact on both workers and businesses. Finding new ways to drive skilling and learning is therefore essential in meeting the needs of the changing world of work.

At the World Employment Confederation-Europe, we believe in social innovation as the way forward in tackling the challenges of today’s labour markets. Social innovation is the implementation of new solutions for working, learning and social protection to the benefit of workers, employers and society at large.

It represents a key driver to deliver training and we are working to create a framework that promotes best practice across the private employment services industry.

Our 2018 Vision Paper – Making Europe the best place to Work’ – outlines concrete actions for empowering EU citizens to build their career path through lifelong learning and skilling.

The good news is that Europe is leading the way in social innovation and we are excited to introduce the incoming European Commission to the many initiatives underway within our membership and discuss how these can be taken up more widely in order to drive skills training right across the EU block.

Skills programs operating today comprise a host of diverse approaches and embrace tools from online, self-diagnosis through to Artificial Intelligence (AI). Adecco France for example, runs a ‘Competence Incubator’ focused on skill sets, with a design solution for creating competencies. It has been highly successful in overcoming skills shortages and meeting client needs while also keeping workers in employment.

In Belgium, a bi-partite training fund has been purposed to deliver expert training for temporary agency workers. Some 6,400 people were trained in 2018, receiving an average of 25 hours each. Results have been encouraging with a post-training employment rate of 89%.

In addition, people can also access an online tool, ‘Testyourselfie’ which allows them to test their soft skills and identify where they need further training. The model represents an excellent best practice to foster social inclusion and has now also been rolled out in the Netherlands, Luxembourg and France, gathering over 40,000 users.

Italy too offers a successful online ‘Profile employability index’ supporting workers to pinpoint their skills needs for specific jobs – including soft, hard, and ICT skills – and whether they are essential or optional.

In Finland, a highly innovative programme known as Headai has been developed using AI.  It enables systematic change in labour market dynamics and continuous learning. Taking the premise that by 2030, working and learning will be interchangeable, Headai applies cognitive AI and data science in running simulations and interventions between individuals, work and training.

It tracks competencies by region and identifies shifts in skills demand year by year as technologies and needs advance. A mapping has been created comparing Helsinki and Göteborg. Through a digital twin approach, it identifies the similarities and differences between skills demand and educational offering in order to help map a future curriculum. A preliminary study using the system, AuroraAI, is the basis for a 2019-24 implementation plan.

Away from digital tools, a multitude of more classic trainings and workshops abound, including job dates and seminars. One initiative in Belgium – ‘Learn4Job’ – is targeted at job seekers who would normally be served through the public employment services. It offers bespoke training for temporary agency workers and operates via a large network of providers.

Results are encouraging, with 89% of participant subsequently securing employment.

The World Employment Confederation-Europe has been using the EU sectoral social dialogue on temporary agency work and available EU funding available to conduct research and provide insights into processes, outcomes and best-practices.

In February 2019, we began the ‘Social Innovation in the Temporary Work Agency Industry’ project jointly with UNI-Europa, the European trade union for the services sector. It is due to be completed by summer 2020 and will provide more examples of social innovation in the areas of training, working conditions and social protection.

Promoting training and skills enhancement is an important focus for our sector and we also discuss the concept of individual learning accounts and how they could be used as an important tool of a skills and labour market reform strategy in Europe. We hold regular dialogue with policymakers and experts in order to exchange and share best practice.

What our work has already demonstrated is that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to skills and training. Social innovations must meet the needs of specific situations and individuals.

With a collaborative and open-minded approach, I am convinced that we can find innovative solutions that create opportunities for everyone to enhance their skills sets and succeed in the labour market.

[1] Insights into skill shortages and skill mismatch, Cedefop, 2018

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