A new Cedefop index – Cov19R – identifies workers with a higher risk of coronavirus exposure, who need greater social distancing, affecting their current and future job performance capacity.

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented labour market shock and unemployment crisis, with millions of jobs at risk following the social distancing measures enforced across EU countries.

These measures have had an asymmetric impact not only on different economic activities but also on diverse workforce groups, accentuating inequalities between workers, exposing the vulnerability of some unprotected groups, such as gig workers and accelerating past trends towards job automation and remote working

The overall impact of the coronavirus pandemic on EU jobs will depend on several factors, including how ‘essential’ their services are in terms of meeting basic population needs, the extent to which they can be carried out remotely and their pre-existing employment and institutional structure. Changed consumer preferences following the pandemic, such as increasing reliance on e-commerce, will also play a role.

Some recent estimates have already highlighted the considerable cost in terms of lost economic output and employment. As European societies are struggling with the trade-off between losing lives versus losing jobs, identifying the sectors, occupations and population groups faced with a higher risk of coronavirus disruption is critical for designing appropriate job activation and reskilling, as well as employment support and industrial policies.

Coronavirus social distancing risk for the EU labour market

Cedefop experts created a new coronavirus social distancing risk index, Cov19R, to assess which individuals face a higher risk of coronavirus exposure by doing their jobs, and therefore need greater social distancing. The index was created by identifying skills descriptors distinguishing jobs according to whether they rely on physical proximity or contact with others; the degree to which a job can be performed (remotely) via digital technologies was considered a risk-mitigating factor. Details are available in a forthcoming Cedefop working paper.

The authors used a skills-based approach to identify the industries and occupations in the EU job market most likely to be impacted by social distancing measures and practices due to the pandemic, drawing on unique data on the skill needs of EU jobs from the European skills and jobs survey (ESJS), and from Cedefop’s Skills online vacancy analysis tool for Europe (OVATE).

EU industries and jobs at higher risk of coronavirus disruption

The Cov19R index reveals that EU jobs in the accommodation, catering or food services sector, wholesale and retail trade and social and personal services, face the highest risk of coronavirus-related exposure. In such sectors, employees are most likely to engage in intensive communication, teamwork and customer-handling tasks, therefore facing greater social distancing risk. By contrast, employees in the utilities, professional and scientific services and ICT industries are relatively insulated from exposure to the new coronavirus, and their economic performance has been and may be less affected by ongoing and future Covid-19 disruption.

The research further reveals that workers providing care, sales or other personal services, as well as hospitality and retail managers, health workers and food preparation helpers have a very high Cov19R score (Figure). In contrast, office workers, clerks, scientists, engineers and ICT workers are less susceptible to the social distancing impact of Covid-19. As noted by Cedefop experts Konstantinos Pouliakas and Jiri Branka, ‘we conservatively estimate that about 45 million jobs in the EU-27 labour market (23% of total EU-27 employment) are faced with a very high risk of disruption due to Covid-19.’

COV19R score by occupation groups, EU-27 + UK

Accentuating inequalities

The analysis identifies the population groups and job characteristics associated with higher disruption risk. The findings show that the brunt of the Covid-19 social distancing risk is borne by vulnerable workforce groups, such as women, older employees, non-natives and the lower-educated. The risk is also higher for individuals in more challenging job conditions, such as those working longer hours or from multiple sites and those employed in micro-sized workplaces. Such conclusions raise significant concerns for policy-makers and call for immediate and targeted policy responses to prevent the widening of labour market and social inequalities due to the ongoing pandemic.

Cedefop’s skills analysis team is continuing to investigate the impact of the coronavirus crisis on skills and jobs in the EU labour market. The next step is to use the real-time signals from Skills OVATE to uncover the industries and occupations that experienced the largest declines in online job postings during and after the coronavirus shutdown. Detailed information on skill needs and jobs from the tool is also analysed to enrich the Cov19R index and validate its findings. Stay tuned for the publication of our new working paper on the coronavirus social distancing risk index Cov19R.