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ILO reveals substantial skills mismatch in Europe

Covering 24 European countries, the study shows that mismatches between workers’ competences and what is required by their job are widespread – with marked differences between countries. 

In nine European countries* more than 25 per cent of workers are under-qualified. In Portugal, even more than half of workers fall into this category. 

In 2012, the percentage of workers that were over-qualified ranged from 10 to 20 per cent in most countries for which data are available, although there were large variations across countries. In countries like the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Switzerland, less than 6 per cent of workers were overqualified, but their number exceeded 20 per cent in Cyprus and Russia. 

While over-qualification was increasing in most countries between 2002 and 2012, under-qualification went down in a majority of countries. 

The proportion of over-qualified workers rose by 3.6 percentage points during this period, which in part reflects the impact of the global economic crisis. Only four countries – Ireland, Israel, Poland and Slovenia – experienced a downward trend in over-qualification. Meanwhile, the proportion of the under-qualified was reduced by almost 9 percentage points between 2002 and 2012. 

Among the over-qualified workers, women and youth are overrepresented. The study attributes these findings to several factors, including pressures on women to reconcile work and family life, higher representation of women in non-standard employment and possibly discrimination at work. 

Their relative high proportion in non-standard employment also explains why young people are less affected by under-qualification and more often are over-qualified for the job than adults. 

“Providing workers with skills is not sufficient to improve their labour market outcomes if these skills do not match those demanded by employers. The study calls on governments and the social partners to put in place efficient job placement services and training opportunities, and to strengthen linkages between education and training systems and the world of work,” concludes Theo Sparreboom, co-author of the ILO study. 

According to the ILO expert, quality apprenticeship systems for youth, which link classroom and workplace training are part of the solution. Such systems require a well-functioning social dialogue between government and social partners, public-private cost-sharing arrangements, and efficient employment services. 

What’s more, technological innovation feeds directly into the demand for skills in labour markets. High levels of education are only part of the solution, and lifelong learning is becoming a necessity. In many countries reforms of vocational and education and training systems are needed to make lifelong learning for all a reality. 

* Belgium, Iceland, Kosovo, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.


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