Politics and Analysis

Skills and Talent for Europe: What would a holistic strategy for skilled labour look like?


On 18 July, the Confederation of Danish Employers (DA), the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA) and the Polish Confederation, Lewiatan, hosted a lunch forum to discuss issues related to the European Year of Skills.

A supply of skilled workers must be a top priority if we are to maintain Europe’s prosperity and attractiveness. According to Rainer Dulger, President of the BDA, a collective approach is critical if we are to build a Europe with a skilled workforce, sustain growth, share prosperity, and address current and future challenges.

At the forum, stakeholders from politics, business and academia in the EU debated the critical topic of how best to guarantee a supply of skilled workers and prepare for the future.

EU Action Plan on Skills

Nicolas Schmit, EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, set the scene with a keynote speech on the European Year of Skills, highlighting that businesses across the EU are finding it difficult to source the workforce they need. While his primary focus was on enhancing the skills of EU citizens, he also said that the demographic situation necessitates looking beyond Europe to attract talent. Schmit mentioned several groups that find it difficult to gain a foothold in the world of work, such as young people, migrants, and women. Right now, eight million young people are in neither education nor employment, and it is vital to motivate these young people and get them into work. He called for a skills-focused action plan to activate the large numbers of people who remain outside the labour market. The business community strongly applauded his remarks.

Two panels then shed more light on this issue and, most importantly, proposed potential solutions.

The green transition depends on a skilled workforce

The first panel, comprising Esther Lynch (ETUC), Maciej Witucki (Lewiatan), Antonio Ranieri (Cedefop) and Julie Kjestrup (VELUX), discussed how to make sure Europe has the workforce it needs. Kjestrup highlighted how a skilled workforce is a prerequisite for the green transition. In the construction sector alone, around half a million extra workers will be needed by 2030 to speed up retrofitting and energy efficiency. She argued that improving diversity is a key part of the solution. The construction sector currently suffers from a major gender imbalance. In the EU, women make up less than 9% of the building sector workforce, so the sector is missing out on potential talent. She insisted we need to ensure jobs are attractive to a diverse range of people in terms of gender, age, ethnicity, education, and experience.

Bureaucracy is the big hurdle and must be tackled urgently

The second panel, comprising Johannes Luchner (DG HOME), Spiros Protopsaltis (PES Network), Dr Rainer Dulger (BDA German Employers) and Damian Boeselager MEP, discussed better ways of attracting talent from abroad. The main issue is the legal complexities involved in bringing international talent to Europe. Dr Dulger emphasised that the whole system should be simplified and digitalised and mentioned the Canadian system as a good example.

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