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European skills and jobs (ESJ) survey insights

The ESJ survey Insights are short analytical research pieces that use the data of the Cedefop European skills and jobs survey to explore issues of contemporary policy importance (e.g. digitalisation and automation, skill gaps and mismatches of EU workforce, challenges for EU Skills Agenda etc.). The European skills and jobs survey is the first survey on skill mismatch carried out in 2014 in all EU28 Member States. The survey examines drivers of skill development and the dynamic evolution of skill mismatch in relation to the changing complexity of the tasks and skills required in employees’ jobs. Full information about the survey and access to the ESJS microdata is available in the dedicated project webpage here.

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Digitalisation and digital skill gaps in the EU workforce

Cedefop’s European skills and jobs (ESJ) survey reveals that more than 7 in 10 adult employees in the EU need at least some fundamental ICT level to be able to perform their jobs. Yet, about one in three of those employees are at risk of digital skill gaps. At the same time, almost half of all employees in low-skilled occupations do not require ICT skills to do their work. Cedefop expert @K_Pouliakas notes that ‘the digital divide is alive and well. A strikingly high share of the EU adult workforce is still employed in a semi-analogue world, at the same time that others are faced with technological obsolescence. Reaping the full benefits of digitalisation will require modernisation of education and training systems but, crucially, more investment in digital capital infrastructure and continuing online learning for groups excluded from the digital economy.’

Technological skills obsolescence in the EU

Cedefop’s European skills and jobs (ESJ) survey reveals that 43% of EU employees experienced a recent change in the technologies they use at work. Changing technologies and structural change in high-innovation sectors and occupations will feed into a higher reliance on cognitive and interpersonal skills in future workplaces. Cedefop expert @K_Pouliakas notes that ‘a large share of the EU adult workforce is faced with a high risk of technological skills obsolescence. Yet, concerns about widespread automation and robotisation may not materialise into a jobless world. Ultimately the future of work should depend on human acumen that will complement, and not be replaced by, artificial intelligence.’


Cedefop’s European skills and jobs survey (ESJ survey) data show that one in five young Europeans are employed in jobs that require a lower level of qualifications than the one possessed (the so-called overeducated). Cedefop expert @ilias_livanos notes, however, that just as important is the phenomenon of underskilling or skill gaps. These arise when employees’ skills are lower than those required to perform their job. In particular, Cedefop’s ESJ survey reveals that one in five Europeans are underskilled at the time of hiring and that mitigating such skill gaps requires continuing formal and informal learning in the workplace.


Cedefop’s European skills and jobs survey (ESJ survey) shows that by facilitating transparency of qualifications and skills as well as providing better skills intelligence, EU education, training and skill policies can significantly boost mobility of groups in need. Cedefop expert @K_Pouliakas notes, however, that 'many EU Member States are still treating our arsenal of education and training tools in silos – to affect citizen’s lives the New skills agenda for Europe must ensure that the tools build on and complement each other.'


Cedefop’s European skills and jobs survey (ESJ survey) highlights the complex challenges facing European skill systems. Skills matching ranks low as a motive in individuals’ job choices, while job mobility favours the most skilled. Skill gaps are prevalent in some occupations and sectors and for some population groups (re)entering the job market (e.g. long-term unemployed), yet too many of EU workers’ skills are underused and unidentified. Cedefop expert @K_Pouliakas notes that 'a New skills agenda for Europe must further facilitate the transparency and validation of qualifications and skills and invest in better skills intelligence. This will ultimately foster mobility of the groups most in need.’


Cedefop expert Giovanni Russo notes that ‘workers bring to the job knowledge, skills and competence and their personal attitudes to learning. When workers are placed in a stable organisational environment with challenging jobs and opportunities to learn, skills will develop.’


Cedefop research shows that in 2014 about 39% of EU employees believed that their skills were not being fully used by their jobs and 27% also did not have potential to further grow their skills in what are dead-end jobs. Cedefop expert Giovanni Russo notes that 'increasing skills utilisation and formation is linked to creation of added value and competitiveness and should be at the core of EU policies aimed at promoting economic growth through investment in skills.'


When Marty McFly returned back to the future…the clock rolled uncontrollably and eventually came to a halt – the date shown was 21 October 2015. Never could he have expected the ill fate awaiting his graduate son.

Cedefop research shows that 29% of the EU adult population suffers from qualification mismatches, mostly as overqualification. Cedefop expert @K_Pouliakas notes that 'about a quarter of tertiary education graduates work in jobs below their qualification level; this is a waste of public resources and a taint on the value of further education.'


Cedefop research shows that genuine skill shortages are only present in specific sectors and occupations and affect dynamic enterprises, while many firms face recruitment difficulties due to job offers of poor quality.