European Business Summit
Employers push for reform of training systems
By Ophélie Spanneut | Friday 27 April 2012
Has education been left out of the structural reforms underway in response to the crisis? This seems to be the conclusion of discussions at the European Business Summit, held on 26 April in Brussels. On top of the financial crisis impacting credit and the economic crisis impacting trade comes a social crisis that is affecting employment. Yet measures have so far focused primarily on the first two, neglecting the social crisis, according to Mark Spelman, strategy director at Accenture.
Organised by the European employers’ federation BusinessEurope and the Belgian employers’ federation (FEB), the conference theme was ‘Skills for growth’. It was based on a study by Accenture, requested by the two federations, which demonstrates that Europe’s labour market is not working correctly.
The study highlights the gap between Europeans’ skills and companies’ needs. This is seen clearly in two paradoxical developments: over the past 12 months, 86% of European employers have reduced or frozen their training and skills development expenditure, and 72% think that Europe should invest more in training and education despite the sluggish economy. There is also a shortage of skilled labour, despite a persistently high unemployment rate. The European Commission identified this problem in its employment package, presented on 18 April, noting that 24 million Europeans are unemployed but that four million job vacancies remain unfilled.
According to the organisers, the public finance structural reforms under way should not mask the need for labour market reform. FEB President Pierre Alain De Smedt is surprised that emigration by young Europeans to the United States and South America (52,000 Portuguese nationals left for Brazil in 2010) has not set off a warning signal that the European labour market is not working well. The training given to young Europeans is not suited to companies’ needs. Enterprises need people trained in science, technologies, engineering and mathematics. The study also points to a lack of mobility. In 2010, only 2.8% of the European working-age population lived in another member state. The FEB concludes that “the single market may be a success for products but it is a failure for talents”.
Political leaders expressed their commitment to bring about change. Mario Monti, president of the Italian Council, explained that his country was undertaking a large-scale labour market reform aimed at promoting apprenticeship and setting up a flexicurity system. European Council President Herman Van Rompuy praised Spain and Portugal, which “have taken the bull by the horns” with their far-reaching reforms designed to make the labour market more flexible. To boost mobility, he proposed that the success of the Erasmus programme, which has demonstrated its effectiveness among students, should be copied for the workforce. Van Rompuy nevertheless warned employers that reforms of this scope take time.
The conference participants called for greater involvement of economic decision makers in the management of universities. Employers also wish to refresh the image of linked work and training systems. Students should be guided in their choice of training and informed about career opportunities in different sectors and professions. BusinessEurope proposes to dedicate part of the European Social Fund to support for policies to reform apprenticeship in member states. The organisation calls for the abolition of unjustified barriers to workers’ mobility in occupations for which there is recognition of professional qualifications. The heads of major industrial groups attending the meeting also regretted young people’s aversion to risk-taking and urged political leaders to promote entrepreneurship.