Peer-Reviewed Article

Strengthening the labour force participation of low-qualified individuals in Europe

This article addresses the labour market challenges faced by adults with low formal qualifications. While low-level formal qualifications are usually associated with a lower skill level, it is crucial to recognise the large heterogeneity of skills within the group of low-qualified individuals in all countries. Although better skills enhance the job opportunities of low-qualified workers, their lack of formal qualifications limits their job prospects, even if they are as skilled as more highly qualified workers. Their placement in low-skilled jobs has implications for their participation in further training. Limited access to adult training is primarily caused by employment in these low-skilled jobs rather than by differences in cognitive skills or motivation to learn. Policies should, therefore, focus on strategies that improve training opportunities in the workplace, and employers should consider modifying hiring methods to place greater weight on actual skills in addition to formal qualifications. Both approaches would, economically speaking, enable the utilisation of the existing skill potential of low-qualified adults and, socially, enhance the employment prospects of this group.

By Jan Paul Heisig, Carla Hornberg and Heike Solga.

Low-qualified workers are not always less skilled, and the strength of the link between formal qualifications and skills varies between countries.

Better skills matter for the job prospects of low-qualified workers. In all countries, however, low formal qualifications reduce job opportunities, even if low-qualified workers are as skilled as higher-qualified workers. There is, therefore, room for improvement in recognising and utilising the actual skills of low-qualified workers.

Participation in job-related non-formal training by low-qualified workers remains limited. Workplace characteristics, rather than cognitive skills and motivation, appear to be the primary reasons for this participation deficit. It is therefore essential that policymakers and employers view employee training as an investment, not a cost.