Skills will become crucial as we're heading towards the year 2035, with employment growing but also jobs becoming more skills-intensive and demanding higher-qualified workers, and vocational education and training (VET) can accelerate this forthcoming transition.

This was the main message Cedefop Deputy Director Mara Brugia brought home during a panel discussion on the socio-economic dimension of Europe’s open strategic autonomy, which was part of a meeting of heads of European Agencies on 9 February.

Ahead of the European Year of Skills 2023, Ms Brugia presented Cedefop's work of skills intelligence, forecast and foresight, aiming to understand megatrends such as greening, digitalisation and population ageing, noting that it focuses between:

  • today; the labour market, skills in the population, greening resources and drivers, policy aims and ambitions; and
  • tomorrow; what labour markets and skills systems are likely to look like, in 2030 and beyond, as a result of the green transition and the policy targets driving it.

Greening through digitalisation

'The digital transition drives the green transition. In other words, when "green" is the objective, "digital" is often the means to get there. In most occupations that play a key role in the green transition, the development and use of technology and digital skills are crucial,' she said, adding that there is an enormous digital upskilling potential in Europe.

Giving a foretaste of Cedefop's 2023 skills forecast, whose results will be released soon, Ms Brugia said the image that emerges suggests that until 2035 there will be employment growth and accelerating skills upgrading in jobs, i.e. jobs becoming more skills-intensive.

She also pointed out that, a few years after 2030, employment in high-skilled jobs will likely be higher than employment in medium-skilled jobs:

'Upgrading is also very visible in job openings: out of every 100 job openings in the period 2021-35, 57 will be for people with a higher qualification; 41 for people with a medium-level qualification; only 2 for people with a lower qualification.'

Green jobs in the future of work

Looking at how greening can become a reality, Ms Brugia said that this is where skills foresight comes into play. Through green foresight in smart cities, the waste management sector, agri-food and the circular economy sector, Cedefop identified a number of new and emerging occupations that the green transition depends on besides green frontline workers.

As for VET, Cedefop's Deputy Director noted that its role goes far beyond simply training people for such occupations – in fact, she said, VET acts as a green transition accelerator thanks to its:

  • Agility through various forms of work-based learning such as in-company practice, projects with industry; and, particularly, apprenticeships.
  • Close links with skills intelligence.
  • Role in pioneering flexible qualification options such as microcredentials.
  • Partnership at all levels in skills networks and ecosystems.