Education and training are not a panacea for dealing with the skill shortage plaguing Britain and other European countries, since certain occupations suffer from being unpopular rather than a lack of skills, according to the European Union.
The warning is made in a new briefing by the EU’s European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP), looking at skill shortage and surplus occupations.
It is part of a wider problem of countries with too few or too many workers, depending on the type of job. There are too many labourers and factory workers across Europe, as well as surpluses in “secretaries and keyboard operators and social and religious professionals.”
While the areas with the most severe shortages are ICT; medicine; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions; nursing and midwifery; and teaching.
Although a lack of skills is to blame in many cases where there are not enough people to fill certain jobs, sometimes factors such as “poor terms and conditions of employment” are responsible.
“Simply increasing skill supply in such circumstances may not reduce reported shortages, as people will still not be attracted to those jobs. The right remedies to tackle skill mismatch require the right diagnosis. Education and training alone cannot solve skill mismatch,” according to the briefing, released last month.
The lack of ICT and STEM professionals is one example. While a shortage of qualified people to meet rising demand is a major reason, exacerbated by individuals emigrating for better opportunities, the popularity of certain professions is another factor.
“Despite demand, some STEM occupations are not attractive. One reason why shortages arise is job insecurity, for example scientists working on contracts that are short-term or with relatively low-pay in higher education institutions,” states the briefing.
“STEM occupations are also becoming more demanding. In addition to technical and practical knowledge, STEM professionals are also increasingly required to have highly developed ‘soft’ skills such as foreign languages, management, communication, problem-solving and project management. This situation is similar for ICT professionals,” it adds.
When it comes to the broader problem of skills shortages, qualifications, or lack of them, are not the only issue: “Other reasons, not related to skills, include unattractive working conditions such as stressful working environments and negative real wage growth, which can discourage young people from entering certain occupations.”
Teaching has a “negative image” in some countries, with low wages, while healthcare occupations often require shift and weekend work and are characterized by high staff turnover. A growing number of healthcare professionals work in other sectors with better working conditions, such as the biotech industry, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment suppliers, says the briefing.
Another problem is occupations which are oversubscribed, in “skill surpluses” described as representing “a misallocation of resources and a loss of investment in education and training.”
Economic recession has reduced the number of jobs in specific sectors, such as construction and agriculture, and resulted in fewer manual jobs. Advances in technology have come at the expense of some traditional jobs, with the rise in online shopping one example. In other cases, such as “social and religious professionals” a surplus has arisen “because fewer people seek their services.”
In terms of the UK, the briefing highlights a shortage of finance professionals and states: “During the economic crisis that began in 2008, many financial sector jobs were lost in the UK but, as the sector recovers, growing demand for skills has made long-standing recruitment problems worse. Competition between firms for finance professionals with skills such as planning, administration, investment and quantitative analysis, is fierce.”
Employers in Britain “have expressed concerns that courses may not equip graduates with the right skills” and are “particularly uneasy that ICT courses lag behind technological advance and students do not have sufficient practical experience,” according to the briefing.
Ilias Livanos, an expert in CEDEFOP’s Department for Skills and Labour Market, told TJ: “The UK, as in the case of many EU countries, faces shortages of health professionals.”
This is due to a combination of demographic changes, with an ageing population, driving up demand, and “difficulties in training an adequate number of qualified staff,” he said.
Britain also has shortages of ICT specialists “driven by the digitalisation of the economy and the rapid changes in the area of the information technology” and not enough finance professionals with “sector specific skills,” Mr Livanos remarked.
Commenting on the issues raised by the CEDEFOP briefing, Chris Jones, chief executive, City & Guilds Group, said: “The challenge is that, particularly during uncertain economic times, businesses are less likely to see learning and development as a priority. But skills are always a safe investment.”
He added: “Investing in skills development and aligning it to long-term business objectives ensures employers have the talented employers they need to succeed and grow, both now and in the future.”
And a spokesperson for the Association of Employment and Learning Providers said: “The best jobs offer chances to train and progress and employers who recognise this are more likely to fill their vacancies and more importantly see their staff turnover reduce.”
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