By Fabio Manca.
Skill mismatch and shortages are painfully common in advanced economies. The OECD estimates that some 60 million workers in the 22 countries participating in its Survey of Adult Skills (2012) are either under-skilled for their jobs or over-skilled (Figure 1).
Much can be done to understand the reasons behind the emergence and persistence of skills imbalances as well as to design an effective policy response to reduce the negative effects that mismatch and shortages can have on individuals and economies.
Timely and robust labour market information, able to identify what skills are (and will be) needed by employers, can be of great help by informing employment, education and migration policy and shape these to meet labour market needs.
That being said, while virtually all OECD countries carry out some sort of exercise aimed at assessing and/or anticipating skill needs (e.g. labour market forecasts, surveys of employers and graduates, sectoral analyses, etc.), little is known about the barriers that may hinder the use of this information for policy making.
The new OECD report “Getting Skills Right – Assessing and Anticipating Changing Skill Needs”, released today, fills this gap. It analyses new information collected through a set of questionnaires distributed to ministries and social partners across OECD countries. The questionnaires have been designed to identify barriers, weaknesses as well as best practices as these are perceived by the main stakeholders involved in the production, dissemination and use of skill needs information.
The report identifies effective strategies for turning qualitative and quantitative information on skill needs into relevant policy actions by providing a comparative assessment of different practices in 29 countries. The results highlight two broad challenges which need to be overcome to ensure that information on skills needs is used more widely and effectively across OECD countries.
First, the way the available statistical information defines and measure ‘skills’ may not map on to useful policy-making variables. Usually, definitions are too technical or not sufficiently disaggregated at the regional, sub-regional or sectoral levels in a variety of cases. As an example, exercises in several countries estimate which occupations will be in greater demand, but it is not always clear what ‘skills’ are the most appropriate to satisfy those occupational needs. Countries, therefore, are encouraged to engage the users of this information in the development of the instruments. They are also encouraged to refine the existing measures used to describe skills and competences by, for instance, paying more attention to the analysis of soft skills (e.g. self-organisation, presentation, team-work etc.).
Second, key stakeholders (e.g. ministries, public employment services or education providers) may not be sufficiently engaged in the use of information on current and future skills needs. When they are, disagreements about skills needs and the required policy response may also arise, calling for better mechanisms to reach consensus. The new OECD report showcases a variety of successful mechanisms that help stakeholders reach consensus and effectively act to tackle skills imbalances by enhancing collaboration across regional/sub-regional administrative levels.
This is the tip of the iceberg. The OECD is planning to deepen this overview analysis by carrying out specific country reviews to help identify, in each country, the key areas where policy action is required to spur the development of an efficient system for skills assessment and anticipation. More, as usual, is to come!
For further information contact the authors of the report from the OECD’s Employment Policy Division: Fabio Manca (tel. + 33 1 45 24 99 84) or Guillermo Montt (tel. + 33 1 45 24 92 92).
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