The European Skills Agenda

Fit for the Future? The European Skills Agenda between Migration Potential and Labour Dynamics

For a growing number of EU member state economies, finding sufficient and fitting human resources is becoming increasingly hard. Even though a skilled workforce is a prerequisite for a competitive economy, and many European businesses have been sounding the alarm bell for quite some time, the EU only recently began considering having a skilled labour force as a strategic priority. By launching the European Year of Skills in March 2023, the European Commission recognised the urgent need to prioritise the EU skills agenda.

As the EU and its member states embark on the digital and green transitions, up- and reskilling and other measures in social and labour policies are priority areas of the skills agenda. However, the gradual decline of the EU’s active workforce as a consequence of demographic change should serve as an imperative for the EU to rethink the need to attract foreign skills and reconcile this priority with the ongoing preoccupation with migration management. To prepare national pension systems and the EU’s competitive position in the global economy for the impacts of the demographic transition, the EU must increase and accelerate its efforts to attract and retain foreign skilled labour. To that end, it is encouraging that President von der Leyen explicitly mentioned qualified migration as one of the key strategies for addressing EU skills shortages in her latest State of the Union address on September 13, 2023. What is more, many third countries that have comparatively young populations and high unemployment rates could benefit from expanded professional opportunities in the EU. Such benefits may be enhanced through approaches that invest in up-skilling in the country of origin, facilitating seamless skills recognition, and leveraging EU and member state funding frameworks to also enhance the labour force for the local market.

Against this background, the Egmont Institute, the European Policy Centre (EPC) and the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) will jointly examine and propose opportunities to strengthen skills-related policies on the intersection of work, migration, and development cooperation policy. Special attention will be given to the merits of an EU multilateral approach, considering the different speeds at which member states develop skills measures related to non-EU countries and the fact that the bulk of legal competencies around skills are situated at the member state level.

In the spirit of contributing to the European Year of Skills, this research project will culminate in a catalogue of potential initiatives at the EU level that can aid in attracting and retaining global skills and talents. This catalogue will be presented under the Belgian EU Presidency in the spring of 2024.


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