Skills shortage worsens EU unemployment

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An expert report is demanding urgent action to address chronic skills shortages in Europe's labour market, as unemployment in the euro zone hits 10%.

One in three Europeans of working age has few or no formal qualifications, making them 40% less likely to be employed than those with medium-level qualifications, according to figures compiled by an expert group.

Nearly a third of Europe's population aged 25-64 have no, or only low, formal qualifications and only one quarter have high-level qualifications, according to the 'New Skills for New Jobs' report.

The document, written by an independent panel established by the European Commission, was published yesterday (4 February)and is expected to feed into a new skills strategy due to be launched by the EU executive later this year.

Workers who are trained do not always have the right skills that employers are looking for, thus creating mismatches in the labour market.

Unemployment in the EU 27 has hit 9.6%, but skilled workers are significantly less likely to be out of work. Figures released with the report also show that companies that train their staff are 2.5 times less likely to go out of business compared to firms that do not.

However, experts warned the growth in temporary and contract working arrangements could make employers less likely to invest in upgrading skills.

Incentives for training

The report urges EU leaders to find the right mix of incentives to encourage people and employers to prepare for the future by acquiring new skills.

IT competence and languages are important, but so too is training for "green jobs" – many of which did not exist until very recently, according to experts gathered in Brussels for a skills conference.

Energy assessors and architects specialising in sustainable buildings are often a hybrid of traditional professions but offer new opportunities for workers willing to retrain.

The authors of the report called for greater cooperation between education and industry to anticipate the skills required to succeed in the job market. Training initiatives should focus on learning outcomes and more relevant qualifications, they said.

Despite the grim outlook, new projections by the European Centre for Development and Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) predict 80 million job opportunities will arise in the next decade.

Speaking in Brussels yesterday, CEDEFOP officials said almost seven million jobs will be new positions, and will require a more highly-skilled workforce. Most vacancies are expected to arise in "knowledge and skill-intensive" occupations, they said.

Vladimír Špidla, EU commissioner for employment, said: "Improving people's skills will help us out of the crisis in the short term and prepare for sustainable economic success in the future".

Maroš Šef?ovi?, EU commissioner for education, training, culture and youth, added: "We need to break down the divisions between 'education and training' and 'work' so that people can make sure that their skills are suited to evolving labour market needs throughout their lives."

Business leaders have warned that Europe is facing a skills mismatch, with millions of jobs going unfilled because workers do not have the right skills to meet the needs of modern enterprises (EURACTIV 03/03/09).

The 'New Skills for New Jobs' initiative was launched at EU level in December 2008 to build stronger bridges between the world of education and the world of work.

In spring 2009, the European Commission appointed a group of experts on training, skills and employment from around the EU to provide independent advice on the further development of the initiative in the context of the 'EU 2020' strategy.

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