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Coronavirus and the European job market: how the pandemic is reshaping skills demand

Cedefop analysis has demonstrated the severe impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on recruitment and employment in the EU.

During the first wave, many employers stopped or slowed down posting advertisements on private or public job portals. While the situation improved slightly over the summer, the last few months have seen online job markets across the EU being again heavily affected by the measures governments are taking to curb the resurgence of the virus.

The pandemic is also transforming the skills profile of jobs. Skills allowing employers to overcome the challenges linked to social distancing are likely to become more important. Using the skills OVATE platform to compare 2020 with 2019 job advertisements (January-September), Cedefop applied a ‘broad brush’ approach, which looks at shifts in the share of different types of skills requested, to provide early insight into broad trends on how work is changing in the EU. Such trends are also driven by long-term structural trends impacting the labour market.

How does 2020 compare to 2019?

The average online job advertisement requested 11.9 skills in 2019 and 12.8 in 2020 (Figure 1). The increase reflects changes in recruitment efforts. The ad share for higher-skilled jobs in total job advertisements grew at the expense of service, trade and factory jobs. Higher-skilled occupations, such as managers and professionals, which are easier to perform remotely and less affected by lockdowns and social distancing measures, require on average a wider variety of skills.

Figure 1: Online job advertisements: change in skills requirements

Recruitment in 2020: more emphasis on ICT

Figure 2 depicts the skills demand composition of online job advertisements posted in 2020 and indicates which skills clusters are growing in importance compared to the previous year. Growing from 20% in 2019 to 23% in 2020, digital is the skills cluster with the most pronounced shift. Digitalisation and the massive shift to telework is driving the demand for ICT and ICT-related skills – not only because of a surging demand for IT professionals, but also because such skills are increasingly necessary in jobs where this was previously not the case.

Sales and marketing skills are also growing in importance, as enterprises heavily affected by the pandemic recruited staff to help them develop or expand online shops or digital sales strategies. The growing importance of engineering and architecture and construction skills in online job advertisements points towards a growing importance of skills needed to make production or service delivery coronavirus-proof.

What skills were employers looking for in 2020?

Cedefop analysis uncovers strong trends in sectors and within corporate functions (Figure 3). Despite an overall decrease in skills demand with employers posting fewer job advertisements, some skills grew in importance. Among those, ICT skills are the most prominent because of their key contribution to digitalising workplaces and implementing systems for remote work (e.g. corporate ICT systems and their administration).

The growing emphasis on ICT skills also reflects increased use of ICT for design, research and problem-solving. The pandemic’s heavy impact on the retail sector contributed to a growing demand for skills linked to marketing and promotion, particularly via digital means, as employers were challenged to ‘reinvent’ their approach to interacting with their customers. Demand for HR management skills also grew alongside the challenges posed by organising teamwork and recruitment during the pandemic.

In this context of unprecedented challenges, more online job ads are emphasising skills in managing logistics and value chains to ensure smooth business operation. Trends in core skills in manufacturing – a sector that dealt with the lockdowns better than many others and led the short-lived summer recovery – suggest employers are putting emphasis on skills to improve planning and implementing their production processes.

Figure 3: Skills in increasing demand in 2020 (% contribution to skills more frequently demanded)

Coming up in 2021

Cedefop will continue to use its skills OVATE system to track developments in the EU labour market in 2021. The system itself will be upgraded and expanded and the new release, expected in April, will offer new functionalities, including more detailed insights into skills and skills trends, more extensive sectoral and regional information, and data comparison and data download functions for further analysis.