What type of education and training to undertake? Which curricula need to be updated to reflect new skills? What mix of skilled labour to hire? What type of training programmes to offer to the unemployed? Policy-makers, VET providers, public employment services, employers, parents and individuals are called to answer such questions that directly impact choices of great importance, whether at policy or personal level. 

Labour market and skills intelligence (LMSI) can be a valuable guide when replying such questions. LMSI attracts further attention nowadays, due to the skill mismatches that several EU countries face. But how can high quality and relevant LMSI be collected and then used in decision-making?

Skills anticipation offers a solid pathway to that. Particularly triggered by the advert effects of the economic crisis and the subsequent staggering rates of unemployment in several EU countries and across several groups of the workforce, skills anticipation tools are increasingly put in place or further improved. In some countries, such as Finland, well-established systems are being reviewed; in other, such as Greece, a new system has just been set-up.  But all EU countries carry out skills anticipation.  These exercises vary however significantly, either with regards to methodology or their focus: skills assessment; skills forecasting; skills foresight; or other activities such as surveys of employers or learners.

However, designing and implementing tools to anticipate skill needs is a necessary but not sufficient condition to support policy-making with evidence. The tools should be designed in a way that they provide results relevant to the country’s economic, employment and social goals; be pertinent to the needs of the stakeholders, i.e. those that will actually use the results and/or be directly affected by them (such as authorities in charge, citizens, employers, trade unions, associations etc.); while the results should be “translated” for and disseminated to target groups in a systematic way.  

Therefore, the itinerary of findings towards decision-making is intrinsically linked to each country’s goals, structure and culture: for example, the quality of statistical infrastructure affects the level of sophistication or of use of skills forecasting; the overall government structure of the country may call for the inclusion of more local levels of administration (for example, municipal level in Denmark; county level in Hungary); strong tradition of social partnership demands for the active involvement of social partners in all stages of skills anticipation and the use of the respective results (for example, in Luxembourg).

Ideally, on top of skills anticipation exercises, there should be clear governance lines, that link and coordinate all the involved actors, target groups and processes. Sustainable financing methods and dissemination channels help safeguard the use of skills intelligence for steering education and training, employment and other policies. Cedefop’s review of EU countries highlights that a more systematic approach emerges with “age” of skills anticipation in a country. It is thus the “more mature” and long-standing approaches (such as the Netherlands) that offer more comprehensive examples of a fine-tuned approach to skills anticipation production and use in policy. Countries with a more recent history in skills anticipation, such as Slovakia and Bulgaria, highlight the need for a (more) coordinated approach towards a skills anticipation and matching.

Differences, but also similarities, among countries can be identified through the succinct yet comprehensive overviews in all EU-28 Member States, available on the Skills Panorama. The overviews mainly regard the existence of skills anticipation methods; the governance structure (which authority/ies are responsible); the level of stakeholders’ involvement; the dissemination of labour market intelligence and the level of the use of this intelligence in policy making and in decision making by target groups (see Figure for the example of the Dutch approach).

Source: Skills Panorama

These overviews of skills anticipation in EU countries also confirm that the way that the distinctive elements of a ‘system’ are being developed as well as the planned initiatives and improvements are almost solely dependent and affected by each country’s specificities. Yet these overviews can offer useful policy lessons. Similarities in policy challenges (e.g. high unemployment, multiple stakeholders involved) among seemingly different governance systems and economies in the EU make cross-pollination between countries not only possible, but valuable too. For example, the Irish approach to stakeholders’ involvement; the coordination of several activities in the Netherlands; the use of skills anticipation information in VET policies in Austria; are only some examples that can offer ‘take-away lessons’ to inspire other EU countries.

However, due to the complexity of skills anticipation and its governance, one needs to delve into specific country examples to identify answers and suggest meaningful, actionable and implementable steps. Cedefop has significant expertise in this area and is currently undertaking a new project on “Governance of skills anticipation and matching systems: Country reviews”. The reviews use a wide range of relevant Cedefop databases and instruments, such as the first compendium of guides on skills anticipation methods, the European skills and jobs survey, the Making Skills Work indexCedefop’s skills forecasts and the country reports monitoring the progress of VET policies and systems in EU countries.

Learn more about skills anticipation and how it is governed in each EU Member State in the collection of analytical highlights.