Survey: Skills investment slashed despite dearth

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This article is part of our special report Jobs and Growth.

Most European employers (86%) cut or froze their investments in training last year despite ongoing skills shortages and must take urgent remedial action, business and political leaders converging in Brussels for the 2012 European Business Summit will hear today.

Skills will top the agenda at the summit, which will be attended by Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, Belgian premier Elio Di Rupo, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, with more than 1,000 European business leaders and policymakers.

But with the economic and debt crisis rambling on, the news are not positive on the jobs and skills front, the main theme of this year's summit.

Less than a fifth (18%) of 500 European business and government leaders polled planned to increase spending on skills and training over the next 12 months, but 43% admitted that they themselves faced a skills shortage and 72% said increased investment was needed for skills.

Unemployed should be classified better

Analysis in the report, conducted for the Federation of Enterprises in Belgium (FEB) by consultants Accenture, said that even with a modest 0.5% growth rate Europe would need seven years to regain employment levels last seen in 2008.

The report focused on untapped talent, poor labour mobility and a lack of cross-sector collaboration, with a view to seeing how these can be improved.

It claimed that employers treat Europe's 23 million unemployed as a largely homogeneous group and are failing to recognise or address the different challenges posed by older unemployed, or jobless mothers and youths.

Common recognition of skills required

While almost two-thirds of respondents agreed that Europe's skills challenges can only be solved through collaboration, fewer than half (29%) actually work with other organisations in their sector, the survey found.

Tailoring support to different groups within the labour market, increasing flexible working opportunities and developing networks among other companies in similar sectors are among key actions that the report recommended for employers.

Meanwhile policymakers must improve provisions for the common recognition of skills and qualifications across Europe and support the creation of partnerships between businesses and educational establishments, the report said.

The full survey results will be published at 11.00 Brussels time.

“There’s a double paradox in that European businesses are cutting back on skills development at the very time when they should invest more; and skills shortages are persisting in spite of a very large pool of unused talent here and across the world,” said Mark Spelman, the managing director of Strategy Accenture.

“Employers recognise the need for counter-cyclical investment in Europe’s human capital, but are struggling to find solutions. Getting Europe’s skills markets to work better would unlock new enterprise, economic growth and job creation,” Spelman added. 

“Europe may have been facing constraints on financial capital, but it does not need to face a similar constraint on human capital,” according to Rudi Thomaes, chief executive officer of the Federation of Enterprises in Belgium.   “Europe can improve the value, liquidity and the efficient allocation of its human capital if it takes urgent action that centres on collaboration between all sectors and players.”

Europe faces an acute lack of highly educated and qualified workers in the fields of science, technology and engineering, which threatens to undermine the future economic competitiveness of the EU.

The 'Europe 2020' strategy, signed off by EU leaders in 2010, includes a target to increase the employment rate across all member states from its current level of around 69% to 75% by 2020.

Achieving this target, which applies for both women and men between 20 and 64 years of age, will mean reducing the number of unemployed people in the EU from around 23 million (9.5% of the workforce) at the start of 2011 to less than 12 million (5% of the workforce) in 2020.

  • 26 April 2012: European Business Summit takes place at The Square conference centre, Brussels
  • Federation of Enterprises in BelgiumWebsite

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