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How has the European Year of Skills fared so far?

13 Dec 2023

So far, the main achievement of the European Year of Skills has been awareness-raising. But more systemic change needs to happen to truly tackle skills shortages.

2023 was the year Twitter turned into X; the year the EU finally passed its AI Act after years of deliberation; and the year Ireland sent its first satellite into space.

Perhaps less noticeably, it was also the European Year of Skills. This was an initiative mentioned by EU president Ursula von der Leyen in her 2022 state of the union address.

“We need much more focus in our investment on professional education and upskilling. We need better cooperation with the companies, because they know best what they need. And we need to match these needs with people’s aspirations. But we also have to attract the right skills to our continent, skills that help companies and strengthen Europe’s growth,” she said, laying out the plan’s approach.

While it did not generate as many headlines as Elon Musk’s latest antics or the anxiety around generative AI, the European Year of Skills is worth looking back at – it is, after all, a policy that continues to affect European workers and businesses alike.

True to von der Leyen’s vision, it encompasses academia, industry and anyone who wants to learn a new skill. There is a particular emphasis placed on digital skills and lifelong, accessible learning.

The year officially kicked off on 9 May, which is Europe Day, and it will run until the same date in 2024 – so expect a continued focus on skills for the next few months and beyond.


So far, the main achievement of the European Year of Skills has been awareness-raising. Initiatives such as the Europe-wide Digital Skills and Jobs platform have been expanded on and microcreds – or short, university-accredited flexible learning courses – have really taken off in Ireland.

Recent studies, such as the Hays Ireland 2024 Salary and Recruiting Trends Guide, have found that the majority of Irish employers value skills over degrees when it comes to hiring candidates. This is a positive development for many of Ireland’s businesses which are actively trying to fill skills shortages. It’s also good for people who want to work but who have not taken the traditional degree path; focusing on skills provision and lifelong learning is a win-win both for workers and for industries such as construction, engineering and renewable energy which are crying out for talent.

Whether the European Year of Skills has done enough remains to be seen; the talent shortages faced by many European industries are so acute that it’s going to take years of effort to tackle them – and Ireland is no different.

Challenges faced by many sectors still apparent

Recently, Government agency Solas released its National Skills Bulletin for 2023, which highlighted significant recruitment challenges and urgent requirements for talent, particularly in areas such as ICT. In the STEM sector, there was notable talent gaps in all areas of engineering, maintenance and lab tech, software development, IT and medical science.

Following the release of the report, the leaders of Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) AMBER research centre for advanced materials and bioengineering, called for the establishment of a special group to tackle skills shortages in science.

“It is getting harder to recruit PhD, MSc students and trainees,” said AMBER’s scientific director Prof Mick Morris. “This need for skilled workers in the science and research sector alongside the report’s acknowledgement of re-skilling and upskilling requirements to meet the green transition and to meet climate change requires immediate action.”

A lot done, more to do?

Last month, future skill requirements was the focus of a seminar organised by the European Commission Representation in Ireland and Eurofound, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. Irish and EU policymakers and stakeholders, as well as national Government representatives gathered at Europe House to evaluate the European Year of Skills in an Irish context.

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, TD, acknowledged that “our economy faces serious skills shortages”.

“This issue is most stark in the areas of construction, digital skills and green skills,” he added, echoing Morris’ – and others’ – concerns. Harris said the Government would continue to work on addressing talent shortages and building a resilient workforce.

But, as the European Year of Skills has shown so far, tackling endemic skills shortages is about more than making speeches at seminars. Raising awareness is good, and it is a start, but it is not enough.

“To fill the employment gaps there are two sides: jobs need to be attractive and jobseekers must be skilled. Hence, job quality needs to be addressed – wages, working conditions, non-discrimination, affordable public services,” said Eurofound’s executive director, Ivailo Kalfin.

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Updated, 10.30am, 14 Dec 2023: This article was amended to remove a reference to a Skillnet event that is not going ahead, according to the organisers.

Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea joined Silicon Republic in 2021 as Careers reporter, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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