Matching mismatched skills – an innovative approach

“The crisis is not over. It has just been put on pause” – Jean-Claude Junker, the President of the European Commission warns in his State of the Union Speech. His stark words come just after running through the EU’s dreary unemployment figures, which show that over 23 million people are still unemployed, with more than half without a job for a year or more.

The issue is exacerbated when you look at a July report on Jobs and Skills in Europe from CEDEFOP, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training. There are stark differences in the rate of job growth and the types of jobs that are available, highlighting the varying challenges for vocational and educational training across sectors and countries in Europe.  Clearly a lot more has to be done to ensure people have the right skills for the right jobs to help get employment levels back on track.

The issue is particularly important for the Czech Republic, Greece, Spain and Portugal who will not have reached pre-crisis employment levels by 2020. It’s even more important when considering the forecast that a significant numbers of jobs will require specific skills notably at medium-level qualifications.

Opportunities for future EU employment differ from country to country. For Spain, Cyprus, Poland and Romania most job growth is to be in distribution and transport sector. In Ireland, Cyprus, Poland, Latvia, Slovakia and Finland there’s a small increase in manufacturing and in Romania half the vacancies will be for skilled agriculture & fisheries. Beyond these predictions however, one things is sure: these needs are going to change.

A response to this challenge, however, will not necessarily mean ensuring that Romania’s workforce is trained for agriculture and that Spain’s is trained for distribution and transport. A long-term, more sustainable, approach to the skills mismatch is essential. There needs to be a dynamic dialogue between businesses and schools and more importantly the students in those schools.

Sage advice was put forward by our Maria Dahl in her article ‘Why aren’t rich companies and highly skilled candidates a match made in heaven?’. Dahl argues that companies should be encouraged to discuss needed skills with future employees, most importantly, that governments should improve incentives for companies to train their staff sufficiently. This kind of dialogue is extremely important and will short-cut the link between education and employment, hopefully increasingly blurring the lines between the two.

The key buzzword in approaching the challenge of unemployment and training rightly seems to be “innovation”. In an age of ever-increasing technology, the role of online tools and big data should not be underestimated as part of the solution. LinkedIn, for example, has encouraged users to tag their skills and get others to vote them. This creates a wealth of knowledge that could potentially enrich public dialogue by providing data on the evolution of jobs and the needed skills. There’s even the possibility of more “real-time” feedback. Last year LinkedIn published ‘The 25 Hottest Skills That Got People Hired in 2014’, in which they analysed over 330 million LinkedIn member profiles. This wealth of data, adapted for regions and countries, could serve as valuable input for debates between educational establishments, students and companies.

Europe is currently facing many challenges and there are many more to come, but getting people into work is of the utmost importance for the economy and society as a whole. Unfortunately, what is very clear is that their are no quick solutions to such a vast issue. It is precisely for this reason that solutions must focus on the core causes of unemployment and not just its current symptoms. In this case, increasing dialogue between educators and employers, and by thinking innovatively, we just might be able to create a virtuous circle to help give the right skills to land employees and in the right jobs of the future.

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