The Future of Work: Skills for Smart Specialisation (S4S3)

What is Smart Specialisation?

Smart specialisation is an innovative policy approach that aims to boost jobs and growth by enabling each region to identify local strengths and assets, and to develop its own competitive advantages. It is recognised as a strategic approach to increase evidence-based public investment fostering growth and competitiveness at the regional level and improving citizens’ well-being. As a result of its success, the European Commission has been sharing the benefits of the smart specialisation approach beyond EU borders, where, despite different framework conditions, it is seen as having potential for promoting decentralised and innovation-led economic transformation as well as fostering interregional and cross-border partnerships.

How do skills feature?

Vocational education and training (VET) and skills development have been recognised as framework conditions for innovation ecosystems. VET and skills are already partially reflected in the tools and methodologies that guide the design of smart specialisation strategies in the ETF partner countries. As higher skills are linked to greater productivity and an enhanced potential for innovation, smart specialisation strategies are likely to be accompanied by a demand for both advanced and medium-level technical skills. This points to an important role for both vocational and higher education and training. To strengthen the skills dimension within smart specialisation, the ETF has developed and tested a methodology, Skills for Smart Specialisation, for analysing the skills implications of economic prioritisation.

What is the ETF approach?

The ETF Skills for Smart Specialisation (S4S3) methodological approach uses the national smart specialisation process as its starting point. It enriches the analysis by exploring the implications of economic prioritisation for VET and skills. The ETF methodology enables the identification of current, emerging and future skills needs and the ability of the education and training system to respond to those needs.

The ETF methodological approach consists of several steps, the first of which is an analysis of skills supply and demand in selected smart specialisation priority areas. This analysis uses both quantitative and qualitative data to provide evidence on current skills trends and gaps. The assessment relies mostly on secondary data analysis, using existing data sources, such as Labour Force Survey, survey and administrative data on companies, wages/revenues, unemployment, and vacancies. On the skills supply side, it also considers education statistics and the mapping of existing and relevant education and training provision. Quantitative evidence is further enriched with qualitative interviews and focus groups with employers, employees, experts, and VET providers. In addition, the assessment includes an analysis of potential additional human resources for the priority area by looking at job switches between similar industries. It also includes an analysis of the similarity between industries’ human capital or skills requirements which gives an understanding of companies’ likely diversification based on skills.

To sketch out the possible future development paths for education and training, because of smart specialisation, the ETF methodological approach uses foresight to complete the analysis of skills supply and demand. Finally, the ETF approach lays the ground for peer learning with EU regions with matching smart specialisation priorities by pairing up VET providers, with matching priority areas for smart specialisation, to use information on future perspectives for peer learning.

Has the ETF approach been tested?

The methodological approach has been piloted in Montenegro and Moldova where it has proved to be a valid and reliable tool. The tool is being further piloted in 2020-2021 at regional level in Ukraine, in Rivne and Kharkiv. The methodology will be published in Summer 2021.

Where can I find more information?

More information can be found on the dedicated page on the ETF virtual platform OpenSpace and in the ETF publication on Skills for Smart Specialisation in Montenegro.



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