Steps and tips: Identifying skills needs in sectors and occupations

Good education and training systems should have information about skills needs and gaps that could form the basis for developing occupational profiles and apprenticeship programmes. If such information is not available, an apprenticeship working group, or other responsible entity, can take the following generic steps for a skills needs assessment:

  • Decide the objective(s) of the apprenticeship programmes and their scope of implementation (e.g. national or limited to certain geographic regions and sectors). The selection of sectors is based on many factors, including growth and employment potential, as well as current and anticipated skills gaps in those sectors.
  • Consult with the institutions responsible for labour market information (LMI), education and training, and employers’ organizations at the national and sectoral levels to gain access to information on skills demand and supply for occupations in identified sectors.
  • If reliable information is not available, identify the appropriate lead institution and partners for carrying out a skills needs assessment and choose an appropriate methodology. Employer/establishment skills surveys (ESSs) are an effective and efficient method that is widely used to collect information on enterprise skills needs and workforce development strategies.

Figure 3.1 Steps in an establishment skills survey

Source: Mane and Corbella, 2017.

In the development and implementation of an establishment skills survey, the lead body (e.g. an entity responsible for LMI, a research institution or an employer organization) should take the following steps:

  • In close cooperation with a relevant employers’ organization, develop a methodology for the ESS, including a questionnaire to determine skills needs at the national level or in a specific sector. For more details about the process, including the sample questionnaire, please refer to tool "Guide on employer skills survey".
  • Carry out pilot testing of the questionnaire.
  • Send the final questionnaire to enterprises and collect data.
  • Analyse, validate and interpret the results of the survey by discussing them with employers’ organizations and enterprises.
  • Present and discuss the results of the survey with stakeholders (e.g. in social dialogue working groups).
  • Disseminate the survey results to those involved in:
    • career guidance, so that those entering apprenticeships and other programmes are aware of the trends in labour market demand (see section "Attracting candidates to join apprenticeship training"))
    • qualification and curricula development, for developing or updating occupational profiles and the associated curricula used in apprenticeships (see section "Developing occupational profiles and curricula based on skills needs assessments").
  • Repeat the assessment regularly to track trends in labour market demand for skills.


  • A comprehensive LMI system is the backbone of any education and employment strategy. No single methodology can generate sufficient knowledge of labour markets, so the right mix and complementarity of different methods is essential to gain a reliable and comprehensive overview of skills demand.
  • As the support of employers’ organizations is crucial to the success of data collection, the lead body should encourage relevant enterprises to participate in the exercise through:
    • trust-building measures, such as inclusion in consultative social dialogue, which would encourage enterprises to share information about current and future skills needs, and
    • awareness-raising among enterprises about the benefits of skills needs assessment and the importance of their participation.
  • In principle, skills needs assessments might best be carried out by representatives from the world of work, such as employers’ and workers’ organizations, as they are best acquainted with the skills needs. Sectoral skills councils can also facilitate the process of identifying skills needs across each specific sector.
  • Data collection is a crucial factor. It should be carefully planned, piloted and supervised. The aim is to achieve a high response rate with the minimum number of missing values. Interviewers need to be carefully trained to elicit the most complete responses possible to questionnaires and to ensure high quality. The handling of the data collected is another crucial step in the process.
  • In the event that labour market information is not available and a pilot programme is to be implemented at a limited scale, simpler methodologies, using a combination of literature review, focus group discussions and interviews with key informants, can help in identifying the sector and occupations for the pilot programme.
  • Enterprises use a combination of approaches to decide the number of apprentices to be recruited; for example, Rolls Royce determines future needs for apprentices and interns based on factors such as:
    • availability of trainers for on-the-job training (1:1 trainer to trainee ratio)
    • production demand
    • employee turnover.