Skills gap growing in EU neighbourhood

New ETF study “Changing skills for a changing world” presents recommendations for shaping policy responses  

  • Automation, globalisation, digital disruption and climate change are transforming industry and labour markets globally, and have a growing impact also in transition countries, a report published today by the European Training Foundation (ETF) finds.
  • The study puts the spotlight on countries neighbouring the European Union: it analyses new skills demand across countries and identifies key actions for public and private investment in education and training. The scope is supporting all workers to face labour market changes.
  • Automation, digitalisation and the rise of platform work call for the reshaping of training systems to fill skills gaps. Evidence from the countries involved shows that innovative legal frameworks and government intervention are desirable, and digital transition can help overcome job polarisation.
  • The report is accompanied by a series of studies focusing on Israel, Morocco and Turkey, covering the agri-tech, agri-food and automotive sectors. In all countries, workers need more transversal skills and multidisciplinary competences. A strong lifelong learning system is desirable, as well as closer ties between vocational training and companies.

Turin, 24 February 2021 – The European Training Foundation today launched a new study entitled “Changing skills for a changing world”. The report provides a unique perspective on skills needs in an evolving labour market in transition and developing countries. The first of its kind focusing on the European neighbourhood region, the study highlights common features in terms of emerging skills needs and the future of work across different countries.

Enabling change in labour markets in countries neighbouring the EU 

The study is a collection of articles from researchers from the ETF and from countries such as Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Lebanon, Kosovo1, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey. It indicates that jobs in manufacturing, construction, and agriculture are those most at risk of automation and digitalisation. Job polarisation is a recurring trend, increasing the gap between the high and low skilled workers. Investments in digital infrastructure and in the reshaping education systems are needed for countries to compete in the global market and adapt to emerging needs.

Traditionally workers moved to where they could find an employer. With globalization, employers delocalized some of their business to where they could find workforce. Now, increasing numbers of jobs go to those who have the right skills, irrespective of location. Skills become the driving force of future labour markets”, said Cesare Onestini, Director of the ETF when presenting the findings of this publication.

As highlighted in the report, 20% of workers in the EU neighbourhood are in jobs for which they are overqualified, although their skills often do not correspond to the needs of employers.  Governments and companies should support their workforces to adapt and learn to be ready for change through upskilling and reskilling, so that countries avoid having two tiers whereby some workers are ready for change and others are not. The study provides recommendations on how to tackle this mismatch, and how to adapt the skills provision: beyond a restructured education system, effective services for the school-job transition as well as a more focused skills development are desirable.

Country focuses for Israel, Morocco and Turkey  

Alongside the report on ‘Changing skills for a changing world’, the ETF is publishing three case studies focusing on Israel, Turkey and Morocco. The reports highlight the need for closer cooperation between the public and private sectors; more attention to technical, digital and soft skills, and stronger investment in lifelong learning – with a focus on young people and women.

‘Comparing developments across countries, and taking a sector-based approach, with this study ETF has applied a new methodology including the use of big data to assess emerging skills demand considering the specificity of countries in economic transition. The results offer fresh insight to policymakers to design effective responses on reskilling and upskilling of workers’ said Anastasia Fetsi, lead human capital development expert at the ETF.

  • In Israel, the innovative agri-tech sector, characterised by the application of technology in agriculture (e.g. advanced irrigation, biotechnology, robotics, use of big data and AI) requires a complex set of skills covering a variety of technologies and related competences.
  • In Morocco, the agri-food sector remains influenced by traditional methods, while precision agriculture solutions are being introduced; new jobs are increasing but specialised professionals are needed.
  • In Turkey, the automotive sector is well-organized and increasingly innovative but the ongoing automation is having major impact on the sector and new profiles with broader and deeper skills (T-shaped) will be needed, shifting the occupational structure towards more highly skilled profiles.


The European Training Foundation is the EU agency supporting the countries of the EU neighbourhood to reform their education, training and labour market systems. It works with policymakers and practitioners to support reform, promote evidence-based approaches, document change, provide analysis and stimulate debate to anticipate new skills needs.

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