We live in a rapidly evolving world where skills required by employers are changing. It is vital that the jobs of tomorrow are fit for purpose.
—Maggie McGhee, Director of Professional Insights

EU stakeholders and decision-makers discussed what has been achieved since the publication of the new Skills Agenda for Europe, and what the next steps might be, at an ACCA-PwC event at the European Parliament.

Skills are extremely important for the future of Europe: the right skills can help create the right Europe. This is a priority for all the EU institutions. A recent ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and PwC joint conference in Brussels at the European Parliament, hosted by European Parliamentarians Martina Dlabajova and Momchil Nekov, co-rapporteurs on the new skills agenda for Europe report, confirmed the focus has shifted towards matching skills with jobs, and anticipating future needs together with labour market reforms.

Martina Dlabajova, MEP said: ‘whilst skills mismatch is a concern, in parallel, we need to closely look at different aspects, especially at the future employability of people. Our joint report is based on a series of questions: are we giving our citizens the right skills for the future jobs? Are we giving them the skills that employers look for? Do we combine enough theoretical skills with practical ones?  Are we giving them the opportunity to learn, for example, how to set up and run their own businesses, how to be an entrepreneur?

‘It is also about a can-do attitude, courage to try new things and take advantage of opportunities. To foster an entrepreneurial mind-set, young people need to be mentored and motivated. They need to listen to real success and failure stories and find out how the real world is working.’

There was a general agreement that to enhance people’s employability, there is an urgent need for more focus on entrepreneurship education and for more work-based learning, without forgetting promoting VET as an education. The importance of labour mobility was also stressed, as it helps the flow of skills across borders in Europe, and also in the context of legal migration. Some speakers called also for an estimation of future skills needs, in particular for certain sectors, like the ICT sector and the evolving digital environment.

To achieve these goals we must act immediately. Every change we make in education now will be seen only after 10-15 years. We need enhanced cooperation between all labour market stakeholders, with involvement of education systems, businesses and policy makers. Employers need to be involved in the development of educational programmes of the future, and skills development must be a shared responsibility between formal education providers and employers.

Peter Norriss, PwC, said : ‘One of the big challenges across Europe is there are many people in entry-level jobs that are not getting the support they need to step up into higher level jobs. The Sheffield City Skills bank tries to maximise people’s experiences and create new opportunities for people to step up in their careers. This is what helps companies grow and creates prosperity within the region. Having the right skills systems helps attracting more investment.

‘We need to take a real look at the skill system and whether qualifications are the thing that we should be measuring. There is no doubt that qualifications help when starting a career, but later on employers want to see experience, skills and competence.’

Momchil Nekov, MEP, stressed that the Skills Agenda needs to refocus on the role of non-formal education. He said:  ‘Employers want soft skills such as team working, resilience, leadership and sense of initiative, while in the same time only 25% of them offer apprenticeships.  Recruiters don’t look for diplomas anymore, but look for individuals having the so-called horizontal skills, such as the capacity of adaptation, the ability to cope with challenging workload, as well as entrepreneurial spirit and self-confidence.

‘Do we really learn those skills in the classroom? In fact, we don’t, and we learn much more outside the formal education system. But to expect a change of any kind, we should first change our mentalities.’

Maggie McGhee, Director of Professional Insights at ACCA, concluded: ‘Recent alarming data shows that 40% of European employers cannot find people with the right skills to grow and innovate and 77% of global CEOs are concerned that a shortage of key skills could impair their company’s growth. We live in a rapidly evolving world where skills required by employers are changing. It is vital that the jobs of tomorrow are fit for purpose.  We live in an interconnected world, we need digital skills. Apprenticeships and traineeships need to be supported because they are the main instrument to fight youth unemployment. Projects for seniors are not less important. We need to work together to see what we can do to support the workplace for tomorrow.’