This paper analyses different dimensions of skills mismatch (notably ‘macro-economic skills mismatch’, ‘skills shortages’, and ‘on-the-job skills mismatch’) and their empirical relationship with labour productivity. Macro-economic skills mismatch arises when the skills distribution differs between the available workers and those that get hired. Skills shortages occur when employers encounter difficulties to fill their vacancies. On-the-job skills mismatch (overqualification or underqualification) refers to a discrepancy between the qualification level of a jobholder and the requirements for that particular job.
Our data suggest that certain types of skills mismatch are indeed on the rise in the EU, notably skills shortages and overqualification. Other types are on a long-term declining trend (e.g. underqualification) or follow more complex patterns over time (e.g. macro-economic skills mismatch). There are also significant differences across EU Member States in the levels of these indicators. We further suggest that theoretical predictions on the relationship between skills mismatch and productivity depend on the dimension of skills mismatch considered. Our empirical analysis suggests a negative relationship between macro-economic skill mismatch and labour productivity and – as a sign of a buoyant economy - a positive relationship between skills shortages and labour productivity. With regard to on-the-job skills mismatch, our data confirm earlier findings from the economic literature: when comparing a mismatched with a well-matched worker within the same occupation, overqualification raises and underqualification reduces productivity. When comparing a mismatched with a well-matched worker within the same qualification level, overqualification reduces and underqualification increases productivity.
Our results imply a positive link between skills supply and productivity. However, to realise the full potential of higher skills, skills should be labour market relevant and skilled workers need to be matched with jobs that use these skills. Therefore upskilling policies should ideally be accompanied by policies that assure quality and labour market relevance of acquired skills, policies that foster a general upgrading of jobs such as business regulations allowing for firm entry, growth, sectoral reallocation and policies supporting labour mobility and innovation.