EU Member States’ responses to the effects of the coronavirus on their labour markets have been swift and varied, and can serve as an inspiration for designing new policies.

The coronavirus crisis is likely to have a significant impact on EU jobs and skills, with the European Commission’s spring 2020 economic forecast predicting a rise in EU unemployment from 7.5% in 2019 to 9.5% in 2020. Cedefop’s Cov19R index reveals that workers employed in jobs heavily reliant on physical proximity and interpersonal skills may suffer from larger losses in employee productivity and disrupted business operations. Employers in more vulnerable sectors may also be tempted to accelerate the process of automation foreseen before Covid-19, though Cedefop analysis of the risk of automation in EU labour markets cautions that many such jobs, which are dependent on interpersonal communication and have limited exposure to digital technologies, cannot be fully replaced by machines and artificial intelligence processes.

Learning from one another

Despite the unprecedented nature of the current economic crisis, there are numerous examples of policy programmes and initiatives implemented in Member States that could prove inspiring during this time. Cedefop research identified as early as 2018 a collection of innovative policies by Member States in response to the challenge of helping the (long-term) unemployed return to work. Many of these targeted upskilling/reskilling programmes are available in Cedefop’s Matching skills online tool. The tool is designed for policy-makers working on education and training, skills, (active) labour market policy and related policy areas. It showcases a collection of policy instruments from EU Member States that use information on labour market trends and anticipated skill needs to inform and shape upskilling or other skills matching policies, and offers policy-makers designing training programmes in the coronavirus era many inspiring examples.

Cedefop’s Matching skills online tool

Perhaps ahead of its time, the policy instrument ‘Online courses’ aimed to improve the competences and employability of workers and jobseekers in Flanders, Belgium by giving them easy and free access to 635 online courses. Information on available training courses and relevant assessment/certification is one of the elements offered by the ‘Education and work’ portal in Czechia. The platform also supports jobseekers by raising awareness of skills needed for occupations, offering job guidance and a list of available vacancies, posted by employers.

With a significant number of formerly employed persons now in inactivity or furlough, valuable lessons may also be learnt from expanding initiatives such as the Croatian universal ‘permanent seasonal work’ scheme, which provides financial support and tailored training to seasonal workers during periods of reduced work. Vulnerable unemployed groups can also be included in programmes of involvement in socially beneficial jobs, which are typically in social care, education and environment protection and preservation – all crucial areas for societies coping with the coronavirus aftermath.

Further relevant case studies from Croatia and Denmark support the preservation of jobs due to temporary reduction of economic activities or via a win-win system of job rotation between employed and unemployed workers (the former obtaining continuing education, the latter learning on the job).

In sectors more heavily battered by the coronavirus crisis, such as retail and tourism, some businesses – particularly SMEs – may need to cease operations permanently, highlighting a need for policy-makers to support those laid-off re-entering the labour market. Supporting the unemployed in selected sectors with training, internship placements, as well as provision of counselling services and certification can be realised through a training voucher programme, as in the case of Greece.

The Estonian programme ‘Kutse’ aims to support the return and re-integration of dropouts from VET schools due to the previous economic crisis. Such programmes could provide inspiration to tackle the elevated dropout risk due to multiple school closures following Covid-19. Guiding students towards much-needed social care areas typically affected by skill shortages has also been a proactive strategy pursued in Austria, providing direction on ways to nursing.

To soften the blow of the crisis on youth unemployment, the Dutch school extension programme is a good example. It was built around the notion that in times of economic difficulty, it can be more advantageous for graduates (or leavers) of secondary VET to keep on studying and learning.

Overall, designing comprehensive programmes  based on careful diagnostic sessions, monitoring of the laid-off population, customised sectoral training and collaboration with sectoral professionals – such as Luxembourg’s Fit4Jobs schemes – may ensure that both labour market and individual jobseeker requirements are met during the skills matching process; at the same time it may also be opportune for local community policy-makers to develop work-based learning and apprenticeship programmes aimed at aiding local business development and skill development tailored to local skill needs.

Policies in a post-coronavirus world – stay tuned

Continuous learning about new and customised policy approaches to stem widespread disruption in economies is crucial at difficult times. To promote such policy learning, Cedefop’s Matching skills online tool will be updated during 2020 to include a more comprehensive overview of systematic and sustainable policy instruments aimed at better skills anticipation and matching in EU Member States.