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What are the skills that employers want? Using big data technology to open the black box

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Improving individual’s employability by investing in the right skills is considered as one of the key policy responses to highly dynamic and competitive labour markets of today.

However, answering the question ‘What are the right skills to invest in?’ is difficult. Robust data on skills demand by employers is scarce; and across the EU, it simply does not exist. Methodological complexity and high costs are obstacles to regular surveys of employer on skill needs. In addition, given the increasing dynamic of labour market changes obtaining more immediate information is critical.

Over the last decade, online job portals became important cornerstones of the job market. The Internet has become a rich source of live and real-time labour market information for a wide variety of occupations, from the low to the high end of the spectrum. It can provide data on job-specific skills required in particular occupations in different regions, combined with information on the characteristics of the job offered – i.e. much more than is available from conventional sources. This information is now accessible thanks to technological development s and big data analysis.

Over the past two years, Cedefop developed a prototype system for online vacancy analysis. The system has been designed to automatically collect and analyse vacancies from pre-defined online job portals. It was successfully tested in five countries (CZ, DE, IE, IT, UK). During the testing phase, about seven million vacancies were downloaded and analysed.

Cedefop exploratory work has confirmed that setting up a multilingual analytical tool for collecting data on skills demand by employers using online job postings is feasible and cost-efficient.

The data obtained is unique, very rich and adds value to the available evidence on skill needs.  Most importantly, with this data we open the black box of those skills most in demand within and across occupations, of new skills emerging as well as other job requirements that employers consider important. On the down-side, using online vacancies presents some limitations: some sectors and some occupations are over-represented while others are pretty absent in job boards; and the skills listed in a vacancy do not reflect a full job profile – employers tend to only list those critical skills and qualifications they seek.

Despite these limitations, Cedefop believes that the data can provide vital support to employment services and guidance counsellors when they assess training needs and possible career choices of individuals. It can be of help for training providers who look to fine-tune their programmes in line with latest labour market needs. Furthermore, providing such data in a comparable format for the whole EU can support labour mobility of individuals. Moreover, such detailed and rich data opens avenue for further research.

This is why Cedefop will develop a fully fledge system and will progressively expand its applications to all EU countries. First results will be available in 2018.

Making Skills WorkPeople and SkillsMatching Skills and JobsFuture JobsLabour Market ContextEU
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