As crisis bites, companies wind down training programmes

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The economic crisis is exacerbating Europe's skills crisis as some companies shift from offering sure employment and become less inclined to invest in training, according to Olga Strietska-Ilina, a skills policy specialist at the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

In an interview, she said this is leading to a further deterioration in skill levels in the workforce, although she added that precarious employment terms is "a lesser evil" compared to complete withdrawal from the labour market.

Business groups have repeatedly complained of a growing skills mismatch with around four million vacancies unfilled because European workers do not have the right skills to meet the demands of modern businesses (EURACTIV 3/3/09).

But they do not seem to be living up to the task themselves. Strietska-Ilina said that if temporary workers are to account for a growing segment of the labour force, enhanced conditions – including access to training – will be essential.

Industry leaders have called for a European Skills Pact and are demanding that more public funds be earmarked for re-training programmes (EURACTIV 27/3/09). But Strietska-Ilina says companies can contribute more to solving the problem.

"Company managers often complain about skills gaps among the workforce and about quality of skills among job applicants. Complaining is good – it is a valuable labour market signal for the world of education – but certainly not enough," said the ILO expert, who wants employers to actively engage with training providers on ways to solve the crisis.

Smaller businesses are often least inclined to invest in off-site training due to the financial costs involved and the impact of being without key staff, Strietska-Ilina explained.

"But it is one of the big myths that owners of small enterprises do not appreciate the value of learning," she said.

When it comes to employees with fixed-term contracts, companies are often reluctant to invest in training workers for fear of losing them to competitors.

"Poaching talents has often been seen as an obstacle for investing in training, independent of contract types. Limited contract duration may reinforce such concerns," Strietska-Ilina warned.

She added that training should increasingly be seen as a "shared responsibility" between employers, workers and governments, with individuals taking more initiative to improve their skills.

Strietska-Ilina was part of an expert group that drafted the 'New Skills for New Jobs' report for the European Commission, highlighting the need for investment in IT competence, languages and training for green jobs (EURACTIV 05/02/10).

To read the interview in full, please click here.

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