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Soft skills needed for the new White and Green jobs

Soft skills needed for the new White and Green jobs

| Text and photo: Björn Lindahl

The EU Commission has presented a new agenda for new skills and jobs. During the economic crisis there are still two kinds of jobs that are in extra demand – the white and the green ones.

An ageing Europe needs more skilled people in the health sector and the way we live needs to be greener.

The Commission has moved from “New skills for new jobs” to “New skills and new jobs”. The difference might seem slight, but there is an economic crisis in between, explained Giampaulo D’Angelo from the DG of Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities when addressing the Employment Week conference in Brussels on 24 November.

When the first agenda for new skills was presented in December 2008 it was still coloured by the more rosy future prospects of the preceding years. Today it is not only a question of acquiring new skills for new jobs. It’s just as much a question of acquiring new skills to keep current jobs.

Mismatch of skills

"Only 20 percent of the European workforce have jobs that fit their skills. The new skills issue is not new, but it has accelerated and become more accentuated by the crisis. Even though the European countries have lost millions of jobs there are at the same time millions of job vacancies that are not filled," said Giampaulo D’Angelo.

An expert group who has studied the mismatch writes in their report that improving people's skills is a real "win, win" for all – for the economy, for society, for employers and, of course, for individuals themselves.

In every single EU country, unemployment rates systematically vary with qualification levels.

The employment rate for those with high skills levels across the EU as a whole is approximately 85 percent, for medium skills levels 70 percent and for low skills levels it stands at 50 percent.

The EU Commission has a goal to move from 30-35 percent of the people with tertiary education, to 40 percent. But there are huge challenges. The average EU school dropout rate is 15 percent. The goal is to reduce that to 10 percent by 2020.

In the new agenda there are five main ways to get at better match between skills and what the employers demand.

  1. Develop better labour market intelligence. The ability to forecast which skills are needed in the future is underdeveloped.
  2. Get the right mix of skills. Future recruitment will be guided more by skills than technical qualifications. The ability to work in teams, communicate, languages and digital skills will be more important.
  3. Matching skills to relevant jobs. Especially at the start of a career it's important not to go down a wrong track. It's very difficult as time passes to backtrack to something that fits better with a person's skills and education. Here both the public and private employment offices have to be better at referring people to vacancies.
  4. Reduce the remaining barriers to mobility, such as the recognition of qualifications and moving your pension rights.
  5. To improve the transparency of the labour market. In order to do that all the European countries have to have a shared interface between the worlds of employment, education and training, so that the skills, competences and occupations have a common classification.

A survey of 7,000 young people made by the Generation Europe Foundation paints a very bleak picture of how the young perceive their skills related to the work market. Only 30 percent thought that they had the skills required by the employers.

The mood has changed

"The mood has changed markedly from a few years back. Then the young wanted a job in a company with good prospects and good ethics. Today a decent salary is the top priority," said Richard Savage, director of the Future Work Forum.

According to him the young receive hardly any career guidance.

Göran Hultin, chairman and CEO of the Caden Corporation and a member of the European Commission’s Expert Group on New Skills for New Jobs, point out that even though a third of the students combine working with studying, there is no connection between the study and the work experience.

This is a huge drawback in a labour market where experience is everything and when the employers want employees who can be productive from the first day.

Soft skills needed

There is one remarkable result in the study: young women are less pessimistic than young men.

"A reason for this is probably that they possess soft skills to a higher degree than the males. Before the employers drew a diagram with boxes to be filled and set the requirements for them – the hard skills like the education," says Göran Hultin.

"But in a working environment which changes as fast it does, the employers are looking more for adaptability. The interview becomes more important than the CV. How does the person present him/herself? How does he/she communicate? What kind of an attitude to working is presented? 

White Jobs

The term white jobs can be used to refer to those who work in the health and social services sector.

About 20 million people across the European Union are employed in such posts, a figure which will increase in the coming years as society copes with an ageing population and new developments, such as innovative treatments, impact on care provision

By 2020 there will be a shortage of about one million professionals in the health sector - and up to two million if ancillary healthcare professions are taken into account.

Green Jobs

Serious deficits in qualified professionals, in management and technical, job-specific skills are hampering Europe’s sustainable growth objectives.

This is also the case for shortages in areas critical for innovation, in particular Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. In the automotive sector and shipbuilding, for example, demand for hybrid vehicles and offshore investment in sustainable energy already requires many skills other than those which workers in those sectors currently have.

Significant investments in "green" skills need to be made to ensure Europe lives up to its ambition of having three million green collar workers by 2020.

Monitoring the Work Market

As one of the actions within the Europe 2020 flagship initiative "An agenda for new skills and jobs“, the Commission has launched two quarterly bulletins to gather up-to-date information on labour demand and job vacancies.

They will also serve as an early-warning tool for bottlenecks and mismatches on the labour market.

The European Vacancy Monitor provides an overview of recent developments on the European job market. Data on job vacancies, job finders and hiring will inform about trends in occupational demand and skills requirements.

Some of the news in the first bulletin:

  • 40 million people found new jobs last year despite crisis;
  • The number of job finders increased by 8 per cent in the second quarter of 2010
  • There is a higher demand for sales, cleaning and restaurant workers;
  • Employers in most countries find vacancies requiring technical and administrative skills hardest to fill.

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