While the industry is undergoing a profound transformation thanks to the green and digital transition, the European population is ageing. Some of the skills needed to support the European economy will have to come from immigration from third countries, which the Commission is trying to facilitate with a number of proposals.
A proposal to facilitate the verification of third-country certifications and the creation of an EU talent pool is expected to be presented by the European Commission this year.
Action seems necessary. EU employment figures are higher than at any time since the EU’s statistical body, Eurostat, started publishing these data in 2009, standing at 74.7% of the working-age population in the third quarter of 2022. Yet trade associations are complaining about labor shortages.
And the working-age population is declining. In 2021, there were 5.4 million fewer people between the ages of 20 and 64 than in 2013. That might only represent a 2% decline over eight years, but it’s still the wrong direction.
Limited skills, limited success
So, even if the EU were perfectly successful in retraining people for the green and digital transition, it would still have to turn to immigration, if it wants to maintain its relative economic power in the world.
“If we want to have successful societies, we have to make room for immigration from third countries,” Maxime Cerutti, director of the social affairs department at Business Europe, told EURACTIV.
However, he warned that the EU must “ensure that there is support in society for migration”, arguing for a greater focus on labor market needs when it comes to migration.
However, the EU’s success in attracting and using talent from third countries has been limited so far.
For example, an “EU Blue Card” was introduced in 2011 to attract highly skilled and well-paid workers. The card would allow its holder to work and live in any EU country, but uptake remains very low.
In 2021, only around 29,000 blue cards were issued in the EU, two thirds of them in Germany.
This is not entirely the fault of the EU since member states still largely control their immigration policies and the EU cannot force any member state to accept more immigration.
EU Talent Pool
Aware of these limitations, the Commission is focusing more on facilitating labor market immigration.
For example, the Commission wants to set up “talent partnerships” with Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.
According to the Commission, cooperation between authorities, companies and training providers should help to fill the skills gap in Europe. A evaluation of similar pilot projectshowever, showed that such projects require a high degree of coordination and are difficult to scale.
One solution that could work on a larger scale is the “EU Talent Pool” that the European Commission wants to set up this year.
The EU Talent Pool is an online platform where potential migrants can upload their CVs and advertise their skills to European employers, national employment services and private employment agencies.
In October 2022, the European Commission launched a EU Talent Pool pilot targeting Ukrainians fleeing the war. So far, only a few EU member states are participating in the scheme, but more than 4,000 employers appear to be on the platform, according to the pilot’s website.
For Business Europe’s Cerutti, the EU talent pool is a promising idea as it would give employers direct access to potential recruits.
However, even if employers have access to potentially interested candidates, it can be difficult to assess the skills that potential employees actually possess.
The Commission therefore plans to propose a new initiative to “facilitate the recognition of third-country nationals”.
The non-recognition of qualifications from third countries also prevents Europe from taking advantage of the great labor market potential that already exists in Europe.
“One way to address skills shortages is to simplify qualification procedures and benefit from the skills of migrants and refugees already residing in the EU,” Sinem Yilmaz, policy analyst at the Migration Policy Group, told EURACTIV.
“Many migrants are overqualified for their jobs and European employers are struggling to find people with the skills they need.”
Simplifying the recognition of third-country qualifications will not be easy, however. Even within the EU, problems of mutual recognition of qualifications hamper labor mobility, for example for teachers.
And there is another problem: for the EU economy to benefit from the skills and labor of third-country nationals, they must actually want to live in the EU.
“Narrow policies focusing only on attracting skills from outside the EU to overcome skills shortages will not work if member states do not ensure a welcoming community for migrants,” Yilmaz warned.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]