Lack of Employability Skills; It Is Time to Wake Up!
Julie Favoli // 3 August 2022
Across European countries, this period marks the end of another academic year for many graduating students. It serves as a reminder that there is a massive lack of employability skills among graduating students, leaving them trapped in a hole between school and the job market. This issue creates long-term problems for the economy, with future job positions left unfilled and an increase in unemployment among the youth. Thus, governments need to reform their universities and recruitment programmes, allowing students to graduate with the skills necessary to find jobs that match their competencies.
Firstly, youth unemployment has been twice or even triple the general unemployment rate in Europe for the last 20 years. Even if countries generally reasonably prepare students, in the case of Italy and France, there are ‘serious shortages’ of skills. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) calls them ‘key competencies’, or, more recently, ‘skills for social progress’. They represent the five areas of competencies needed: professional expertise, functional flexibility, innovation and knowledge management, mobilisation of human resources and international orientation. Moreover, another issue is that universities and companies often move in ‘parallel universes’, leading to a misalignment of career expectations for graduating students. Therefore, there is a pressing need to reform both the university education system and the companies’ recruiting mentalities to avoid increasing the overall youth unemployment, which will be a liability for European governments and their economies.
Secondly, in France’s case, this issue is still an emerging one. Even though the Career Centre initiative aims to develop soft skills (i.e., skills for social progress), it is not enough to tackle the issue’s core. According to the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training’s report on France, the total amount of job openings by qualification indicates that only 2 per cent of the future job openings will require a low level of qualifications. In addition, there is also the danger of there being a mismatch between the skills demanded in the labour market and qualifications. Therefore, the newly elected French government, should prioritise this issue if France wants to avoid the long-term consequences of a high youth unemployment rate on its economy.
In 2021, the government already reformed the Baccalaureate, the final exam before going to university and leaving high school (the equivalent of the IB or A levels). Instead of having three sections (Scientific, Economics and Literature), they now have core modules with optional modules, like the Anglo-Saxon system. However, the government has not reformed its university programmes, which implies that the teaching methods of universities are not in-sync with those now employed in high schools. This creates issues for students after high school and at the university programmes level. Students end up not acquiring the necessary skills for social progress and only know how to do highly complex math problems.
The government should ameliorate the Baccalaureate programmes that still need improvements by analysing feedback from 2021 and 2022. It should also wholly reform university programmes, the overall system, and the change in approach so there is a continuity between high school and university. Focusing on soft and complementary skills rather than traditional scientific skills would lead to a better learning process that includes the management of those skills for social progress.
Thirdly, vocational training schools represent an existing solution to the problem. However, this can only work for a small percentage of students. Most students need significant time to acquire broad-based general knowledge before deciding what interests them. Moreover, it represents a solution for the short term as most of those schools teach practical competencies. At the same time, many jobs require professional expertise from knowledge and practice. Hence, the advantages of vocational training schools should be highlighted to demonstrate that not only do they cater to students with non-academic interests but that they can be essential for academically inclined students as well. In addition, core and specific knowledge should continue to be taught but with reference to a more professional context.
A part of the problem can be resolved through education reforms. However, for this issue to be fully tackled, a change in recruiting mentalities is required, mainly in French companies, that often look at titles and names rather than actual competencies and skills. The French and European governments, in general, could insert an education tax reform to encourage companies to ensure that the new graduate students start their jobs with the professional competencies needed.
Therefore, France and other European countries should be concerned about this ongoing problem. Even if each country has its own education system, they all face the same problem, which will have long-term repercussions on their economies. In the long term, countries individually but also within the context of the European Union should re-think their approaches concerning university programmes and youth employment. Overall, governments should reassess their university programmes and employment schemes for young people once they graduate. They should tackle this issue from the employer’s perspective, providing them with the necessary tools to quickly incorporate young people into the job market. Finally, they should also change their mentalities regarding their education system.
EPICENTER publications and contributions from our member think tanks are designed to promote the discussion of economic issues and the role of markets in solving economic and social problems. As with all EPICENTER publications, the views expressed here are those of the author and not EPICENTER or its member think tanks (which have no corporate view).