Stakeholders discussed at a conference organised by the European Commission in Brussels (9 and 10 October) how the European classification of Skills, Competences, Occupations and Qualifications (ESCO) can contribute to reducing labour market imbalances and increasing occupational and geographical mobility in the EU.

By providing a common language to stakeholders to describe skills, competences and knowledge in different occupations and qualifications, ESCO helps connect employment and education. It provides a language that both employers and jobseekers can use to match jobs to skills and qualifications. It helps education providers understand better labour market needs.

Cedefop’s work and expertise featured strongly at the ESCO conference. Two Cedefop projects were presented during the first day to demonstrate practical uses of ESCO:

  • Harnessing the power of big data to provide information on skills demand by employers across all EU Member States. Cedefop Head of Department for Skills and Labour Market Pascaline Descy and expert Vladimir Kvetan explained how ESCO supports multilingual analysis of online vacancies to detect labour market and skill trends, and identify timely new skills in demand by employers. Mr Kvetan said: ‘In today’s dynamic labour markets, quick information on skills requirements by employers can help design better career advice to jobseekers. Identifying the shortest distance between occupations can widen individuals’ job-seeking spectrum and decrease the costs for training needed for job mobility.’
  • Cedefop’s analysis of learning outcomes using ESCO to compare VET curricula and qualifications across countries was presented by expert Jens Bjornavold. He said: ‘ESCO provides us with a reference point allowing us to compare qualifications across borders. Our study of qualifications in 26 countries worldwide – done together with UNESCO and ETF – demonstrates that this kind of comparative approach can support mutual learning between countries and strengthen the renewal of existing qualifications.’  

The second day allowed policy-makers, business leaders, social partners and academics to share their perspectives on how the labour and learning markets are changing and how ESCO fits into the wider landscape of policies for employment and education.

Speed of change

In a panel discussion on the future of work, Ms Descy underlined that technological changes, robotisation and digitalisation, combine with other trends, in particular major societal and environmental changes, to transform the labour market.  All sectors of the economy are affected and are being transformed. What is new this time, in comparison with previous industrial revolutions, is the speed of change.

According to Ms Descy, this implies a, greater than ever, need for sound labour market intelligence and robust skill needs analysis. ‘We need a much better understanding of which jobs are being/will be destroyed, what new jobs are being created and what the new skills are and, very importantly, how jobs are being transformed – having implications for the skills portfolio required from employees and jobseekers’.

Ms Descy concluded: ‘We need to rethink public action to support people in dealing with more turbulent careers and new forms of work and employment so that continuous skills development, which is the cornerstone of employability, is not jeopardised in the future. Mainstreaming proactive career guidance for all workers is paramount – in the future, dealing with more fragmented careers, most people will need well-trained and equipped counsellors mediating for them, information on new jobs, changing skill needs, mobility opportunities, skills validation and learning opportunities.’

The conference was web-streamed. The panel discussion including Cedefop’s Pascaline Descy was on Day 2 at 14.00-16.00