The coronavirus pandemic has created a new landscape for businesses and the economy, sparking a fresh wave of labour market research. Most of it, for example Cedefop’s Cov19R index, focuses on assessment of the potential risk of the pandemic for jobs and individuals. Cedefop has also explored what detailed skills information can tell us about risk or resilience of occupations to social distancing measures, as revealed by employers’ demands in online job advertisements.

Using the ESCO skills database, 292 major skills requested in European online job ads were examined by assessing their dependence on personal social interaction, how essential they were in coping with the public health crisis and providing basic services, and their potential for performing work remotely.

Out of these skills, 60 were classified as highly dependent on personal social interaction, mostly in areas of communication, collaboration and creativity, assisting and caring, providing personal services, performing arts or media content creation; 44 skill groups were considered mostly resilient to social distancing, as they have either high potential for work done remotely, such as in working with ICT, or are necessary for provision of basic services such as in health and welfare, safety and protection, or food supply.

High social distancing risk for third of EU workforce

An occupation’s social distancing risk is determined by the importance of risk skills in the occupation’s job advertisements, related to the importance of resilient skills. In terms of employment, almost a third (30%) of the EU workforce is exposed to very high or high social distancing risk. At the same time, 7% belong to occupations with a high demand for resilient skills, namely those that can help them continue their tasks without major disruption.

Impact on employment

Employing a high share of people exposed to social distancing risk means it is very likely that key business or organisational activities will be severely disrupted. For example, while an accounting clerk in a restaurant has a very low exposure risk compared to a waiter, disruption of the restaurant’s main activity represents a danger for both employees, who may experience reduced pay or even be laid off if the establishment shuts down.

Cedefop’s analysis therefore also examines the employment structure and share of workers with different levels of social distancing risk across European economic sectors.

ICT services, energy supply services, professional services and financial services are ranked as the sectors with the lowest risk of disruption in their activities, as they mostly rely on workforce that can work remotely with little reliance on personal social interaction. Advanced digitalisation of these sectors is their main shield against the highly disruptive effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

In contrast, accommodation and food, wholesale and retail trade, arts and recreation, transport and storage, and construction are sectors with the highest risk of disruption by social distancing measures.

By looking at the employment share of the five highly impacted sectors, Cedefop has estimated the overall disruption of social distancing measures in EU countries’ labour markets.

High-risk sectors as a % share of total employment in a country

Source: Skills OVATE and EU LFS 2018, own calculations.

In terms of employment, many Mediterranean and all Baltic countries’ labour markets rely more on sectors with activities at high risk of disruption by the coronavirus pandemic. Still, these five high-risk sectors account for at least one third of jobs in every EU country. All European labour markets are bracing for difficult times ahead.

Find more information and analysis here.