The future of work and skills in ETF partner countries

General trends, challenges and factors affecting countries’ ability to cope with the impact of global developments and the changing demand on skills is the focus of a recent ETF Issues Paper.  It reviews policy reforms to manage the transition of education, training and lifelong learning systems across the four regions of the ETF’s partner countries: South Eastern Europe and Turkey (SEET), Eastern Partnership (EaP), Southern and Eastern Mediterranean (SEMED) and Central Asia.

Although the paper was completed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic its analysis, discussion and recommendations are even more relevant at this time in planning for the future and to the ETF's #learningconnects campaign.

What are the general trends?

Globalisation is impacting the environment, culture, political systems, economic development and prosperity, and well-being in societies worldwide. The impacts of specific global trends vary by geographical, regional and socioeconomic contexts.

Climate change

A sustainable economy is one of the three pillars of the Europe 2020 Strategy with the aim of promoting the transformation towards an inclusive green economy that generates growth, creates jobs and helps reduce poverty through sustainable management of natural capital. Managing the life cycle of natural resources, moving to a circular economy where nothing is wasted, and the shift to renewable energy leads to many changes and requirements in jobs, skills and education. The renewable energy sector, for example, employs a higher share of skilled workers than most activities in primary fuels.


Among future drivers impacting work and skills are digitalisation, automation and robotics, especially in routine occupations. A blurring of sectors will also occur. Digital progress will not benefit everyone equally, and it could leave many workers behind through lack of access and skills.  Preparation for the digital era and the impact of automation require proactive reforms in education, VET and lifelong learning systems as well as in labour and employment policies.

What are the challenges faced by ETF partner countries?

Specific challenges concern labour markets, especially youth and female unemployment and inequality; demographic challenges together with migration flows and ‘brain drain’; the impacts of climate change and diminishing natural resources; and increasing political instability.

Demographic dynamics and migration flows

ETF’s partner countries vary widely in terms of aging or large youth populations, and migration flows which may cause them to lose skilled people or experience inflows of unskilled migrants. Demographic ageing is relevant in the SEET (to a lesser extent in Kosovo and Turkey) and EaP regions, whereas the ‘youth bulge’ in the SEMED region (40% of the population is under the age of 30) is likely to be maintained for the next two decades at least. Opportunities exist in all scenarios, but workers need to have the right set of skills. In countries with an ageing population, for instance, there are growing demands on the education system to provide opportunities for adult reskilling and upskilling. And the challenge in countries with large youth populations is to offset early school leaving and those who are not in education, employment or training (NEETs).

What are the factors affecting ability to cope?

Changes in labour markets and key factors include: relative size of the youth population, participation in tertiary education and public expenditure on education as a percentage of countries’ gross domestic product (GDP), and employment by broad economic sectors.

What actions are proposed?

Policy responses and strategic choices of the ETF’s partner countries are discussed and two actions are proposed to develop skills, education and learning systems. The first is to make a future-oriented projection of the key economic and technological sectors and their related skills needs in the future; the second is to make a future-oriented projection of the required education, VET and lifelong learning systems.

What are the conditions?

The development of labour markets, occupational compositions, and education, VET and lifelong learning systems require a well-planned and proactive long-term strategy, policy action plan and evidence-based monitoring system. The contextual socioeconomic and technological factors of work and skills strategies in the ETF’s partner countries are of crucial importance. Improving the economy and mitigating socioeconomic issues, such as corruption and inequality, are also considered key conditions for fostering sufficient investments.

Who contributed to the ETF Issues Paper?

A team of international and national experts contributed to the paper which develops an analytical framework for the study and investigation of global trends, effects on the environment, culture, political systems, economic development and prosperity, and on well-being in societies worldwide. The analytical framework of this study benefitted from the foresight approach developed by the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. The ETF Torino Process regional reports and other national or EU sources informed the overview of employment and skills strategies.

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