In-company training will be a key step towards realising the European Commission's 'New Skills for New Jobs' plan, according to EU Employment Commissioner László Andor.
Speaking at the European Business Summit on 30 June in Brussels, Andor said "skills in Europe have to be brought up to date with the current challenges and new demands in the world economy".
The Hungarian commissioner argued that it was vital to focus on the EU's "laggards" in terms of in-company training. The disparities between member states are still too great, he said, noting that the figure for levels of in-house up-skilling was as high as 80% in the UK but as low as 10% in Greece.
He also noted that inclusive growth is a cornerstone of the 'Europe 2020' strategy, and the New Skills for New Jobs plan will be important for making this work. The Commission's new employment guidelines also rely on the plan, he added.
More flexibility for hiring and firing, say CEOs
CEOs also argued that "Europe's future depends on remaining competitive in the major technology areas. There's no doubt that education levels in some of the emerging markets are very high. We have to either employ those people or compete with them".
Improve e-skills across the board
This theme was also addressed by Jan Mühlfeit, chairman of Microsoft Europe, who argued that identifying Europe's competitive edge in the 21st century means changing not what we do but how we do it.
He emphasised that comprehensively improving the e-skills of European citizens would be a vital step in "unlocking Europe's human potential". As well as being a valuable skill in their own right, enhanced ICT and cloud-computing will be key in improving the training methods used in the EU's push for new jobs, he said.
In five years' time, 90% of the jobs in Europe will require basic e-skills at the very least, he claimed.
New skills also necessary for old jobs
European trade union representative Jozef Niemiec took up this point, reminding the panel that new skills are also necessary for old jobs and arguing that the onus was on enterprises, both public and private, to develop the skills of their workforce.
Unions are concerned, he said, by the fact that large companies tend to be much more committed to training than SMEs, which constitute the majority – the "real base," he argued – of the European economy.
Social dialogue between employers and employees needs to be geared towards protecting the EU labour market from an excess of temporary contracts, which have proliferated as a short-term response to the recession, Niemiec said. However, these contract workers very rarely receive training or new skills, which will hurt Europe in the long-run, he argued.
A basic priority for unions is the quality, as well as quantity of jobs, he explained, adding that training and up-skilling is a key way for companies to enable workers to undertake better, more fulfilling jobs.
He echoed Andor's call to anticipate the skills that will be needed in the future.
New jobs for old people
Creating the right jobs to fit these new skills is important, noted Robert-Jan van de Kraats, CFO and vice-president at insurance giant Randstad, but finding people to fill other jobs is equally vital. Increasing labour market participation, notably of women and elderly people, will be hugely significant, he said.
"We need not only new skills for new jobs, and new skills for old jobs, but new jobs for old people," he quipped. In the same vein, Andor noted the importance of integrating into the labour market marginalised groups such as the Roma. "The Roma are a wasted human resource," he said.
In autumn 2010, the Commission is planning to unveil a number of so-called "flagship initiatives," one of which is called "new skills and jobs" – a shorter title but with the same premise, explained the Hungarian commissioner.