Getting skills right

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Across OECD countries 15% of youth is not in education, employment or training. Despite the recovery, the youth employment rate remains below its pre-crisis level. In multiple OECD countries, such as Greece, Spain, and Italy, the youth unemployment rate remains at staggering levels. Many of the young people who are employed are not using the skills they acquired during their schooling. Moreover, one in four employed young people is working on a temporary contract, which limits the opportunities to advance in their careers and to participate in further training. Giving young people a good start to their working lives has become a major challenge across OECD countries today.

To improve employment prospects of youth it is essential to invest in their skills, and more importantly in equip them with the right skills. While high unemployment rates are obviously linked to low economic growth, they can also be partly explained by a disconnection between the available skills and the skills that are in demand in the labour market. Even in countries with high unemployment rates, employers report difficulties in filling vacancies. The disconnection between the supply and demand of skills is also evident from the high rates of mismatch between youth’s skill levels, qualification levels and the field-of-study and what is actually required in the jobs they are employed in.

The OECD Skills for Jobs database provides detailed information about the skills that are in shortage and surplus in the OECD countries’ labour markets. This information can help youth in their education and training and career choices. The database can also be useful for youth who are considering working abroad, as it can help them identify countries which are looking for the skills that they possess. Shortages are mainly found in cognitive skills, such as abstract reasoning and problem solving, whereas routine manual skills are generally found to be in surplus. The OECD Skills for Jobs data also highlights the importance of soft skills, such as leadership and adaptability, and digital skills which are in high demand across countries.

Under the impulse of global trends, such as technological progress, globalisation, and the aging population, the demand for skills is changing rapidly. Certain jobs are disappearing, new jobs are emerging, and the content of remaining jobs is changing. This implies that people will have to be mobile across occupations and sectors during their working life. As a result, it is important for youth to be adaptable and to invest in continuous skills development. Therefore, young people need to be equipped with solid foundation skills, but also with strong soft skills, such as learnability and adaptability. Results from the OECD Survey of Adult Skills show that across the OECD countries, a significant share of youth has low levels of cognitive skills.

Workplace-based learning opportunities, such as apprenticeships and internships, are an important channel for students to develop skills that are in line with the employers’ demands. Not only do these opportunities help students in developing technical skills, they are also important for the acquisition of soft skills. Several OECD countries have been revising their apprenticeship system to make them more useful for students and employers.

Overall, young individuals can benefit greatly from investing in their skills. Policy makers and education providers play an important role in making sure that the content of education and training is responsive to the labour market needs and that high-quality information about needed skills is available to inform students making education and career choices.  However, at the same time, youth have the responsibility to actively make use of available information to make informed choices and to invest in lifelong learning after leaving the education system.


The Youth Global Employability Report discusses the skills needed for employment in more detail.

Download the report



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