Skills needs assessment and anticipation

Quality Apprenticeships are recognized as offering an effective and efficient way of bridging this divide. However, this can only be achieved successfully if there is a knowledge of the supply and demand for skills. It must be ascertained which skills are needed in what sectors, and what the social partners can do collectively to provide these skills. A skills system in a country should have a sub-system/mechanism for “skills needs assessment and anticipation” that functions in coherence with the Quality Apprenticeship system to ensure that apprenticeship programmes align with the labour market demand.

The ILO describes skills needs assessment and anticipation (ILO, 2015a) as ‘activities to assess future skills needs in the labour market in a strategic way, using consistent and systematic methods’. It aims to provide information to all labour market actors about current and potential future skills needs and imbalances so that they can make decisions, develop measures and take actions with a view to meeting the needs and avoiding the imbalances. It can be done at regional, national and/or sectoral level.

As a component of a broader labour market information system, skills needs assessment and anticipation can be broken down into a number of key elements, namely: data, methods, tools, analytical capacity and institutions (figure 8).

Figure 1: Essential components of skills needs anticipation

Source: ILO, 2015a,  p 4.

There are several methods for skills needs assessment and anticipation. The ILO considers social dialogue as a cornerstone of any method: it is critical for obtaining inputs from labour market actors, for informed decision making, and for the implementation of findings and recommendations.  Therefore, social dialogue needs to be embedded into institutional structures and procedures. The approach promoted by the ILO, as may be seen in figure 9, is to identify relevant data and tools; translate this data into indicators, trends and scenarios; analyse these outputs and prepare strategies directly with the social partners; and establish arrangements that are conducive to matching demand for, and supply of, skills through systematic social dialogue.

Figure 2: The ILO approach to skills needs assessment and anticipation

Source: ILO, 2015a, p. 4.

Institutional framework

In every country, a number of organizations are involved in skills needs anticipation - for example, the Ministries of Labour and Education, the National Skills/TVET agency, sectoral skills bodies, the statistical office, employment services, education and training institutions, and employers’ and workers’ organizations. Each of these institutions brings some core advantage and resources, and can thus complement the roles of the others. For example, sector skills councils generally have the mandate to collect skills demand and supply data in the specific sectors; public employment services collect data on vacancies and jobseekers; statistical offices collect and analyse all statistical data; and universities and research institutions often have the necessary technical staff who analyse labour markets (Ibid.).

However, countries need to have a ‘lead’ institution, which ensures cooperation and coordination between all the other institutions. In a broader survey of 61 countries, carried out by the ILO (in conjunction with CEDEFOP, the ETF and the OECD), the Ministries of Education and Labour and other public authority agencies (usually public employment services) were generally the lead institution in terms of skills anticipation exercises. However the level of the social partners’ involvement was very high – in 75 per cent of high-income countries and  96 per cent of middle- and low- income countries, employers’ associations and trade unions (and other stakeholders) participated in the discussion of results, and 79 and 92 per cent, respectively, were consulted on the policy response. The level of involvement was particularly high at the national level, and also at the sectoral level (Kriechel and Velter, forthcoming).

Individual countries have taken policy decisions to improve and reinforce the cooperation between the different agencies involved in skills needs assessment and, inter alia, vocational education and training. In France, for example, as part of the Grand Social Conference in 2013, where the then French President announced a series of measures to increase the number of apprentices to 500,000 by 2017, it was also decided to set up the Network Employment Skills (box 31).

Box 1: Employment and Skills  Network - France

In France, it was decided, at the Grand Social Conference in June 2013, to bring a number of different agencies together under the supervision of the Employment and Skills Network, with the aim of:

  • ‘Strengthening our collective capacity for observation and forecasting: the Network aims to create a space for exchange and dialogue between actors involved in the observation and forecasting of jobs and skills, to produce collective expertise on skills for the future, and to disseminate this work to the representative bodies and actors of economic development, employment, vocational training and counselling and guidance.
  • Anticipating the skills of tomorrow to support professional change and develop quality jobs, adapting the skills of young people in initial VET, employees and jobseekers to the needs of the economy, and facilitating professional, transition are all decisive factors for competitiveness and employment. Forecasting and anticipation play a vital role in shedding light on the choices to be made by labour market actors in terms of economic and technological developments and the provision of lifelong learning’ (France Stratégie, 2006).

Methods and tools

A variety of methods are used to collect and analyse data on skills demand, for example:

  • Quantitative employment projections by sector and occupation, based on macroeconomic modelling, referred to as “forecasts”;
  • Qualitative methods, including focus groups, round tables, expert interviews, foresight and scenario development;
  • Surveys among employers, i.e. establishments or enterprises;
  • Tracer studies of school/training graduates and school-to-work transition surveys.

Tools are guidelines and instruments that provide good practice on the use of data sources, methodologies and approaches relevant to a specific aspect of skills needs anticipation. The ILO has developed many tools, some together with Cedefop and ETF (box 32). No single method and tool can be suitable in all contexts. In order to achieve reliable and meaningful results, a combination of different methods, sometimes both quantitative and qualitative, is necessary in a given situation (ILO, 2015a).

Box 2: ILO tools for skills needs analysis and anticipation

Skills for trade and economic diversification: A practical guide Addresses anticipation of skills needs in promoting trade strategies and in exporting industries.
Anticipating skill needs for green jobs: A practical guide Addresses approach to analysing and anticipating skills needs for the green economy and sustainable development.
Guide to anticipating and matching skills and jobs: A compendium of tools for guidance and assistance in designing methods, instruments and institutional solutions to meet the challenge of matching current and future skills and jobs:
  • Volume 1: Using labour market information
Provides guidance on the principal types of data, data sources and indicators that can answer key policy questions related to overcoming or preventing skills mismatch.
  • Volume 2: Developing skills foresights, scenarios and forecasts
Addresses quantitative and qualitative methods of anticipation and forecasting of future skills needs at a macroeconomic level.
  • Volume 3: Working at sector level
Addresses methods, processes and institutional mechanisms of skills identification and anticipation at sectoral level.
  • Volume 4: The role of employment service providers
Addresses the role of public employment services and private employment agencies in skills anticipation and matching, including the collection and use of relevant labour market information.
  • Volume 5: Developing and running an establishment skills survey
Provides guidance on the implementation of surveys among employers (establishments) on skills shortages and gaps, recruitment difficulties and training measures.
  • Volume 6: Carrying out tracer studies
Assists training providers and analysts in designing and implementing surveys among their graduates on their employability, how their skills are used, and how those skills relate to gaps in the labour market.