"Training is not just for the labour market"
No, they don’t have a crystal ball at the Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA) at Maastricht University. Nevertheless, they publish a comprehensive report every two years on "the labour market by education and occupation". In the latest version, they look ahead to 2024. Which study programme should you rather avoid if economic independence is important to you? Which vacancies will abound in five years' time? Research leader Prof. Didier Fouarge talks about how those reports come about – and the difficulty of evaluating prognoses.
How did this series of reports come about?
“The project started in 1986 with the establishment of the Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market. The Netherlands was recovering from the Second Oil Crisis and suffered major youth unemployment. There was a demand for an instrument that would help young people find their way into the labour market. Not the current labour market though: if you choose a study now, you will graduate in five years. You want to know what the situation is then."
So you ignite your crystal ball?
“Well, no, we don't have that. You can of course put your trust in Nostradamus-like types, who predict what the occupations of the future are and where the growth is. Maybe they are right, maybe not. You can also make forecasts by asking companies about their views on the market and then try to quantify that. But employers, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, also don't always know how the market will develop. We use econometric tools. Based on developments over time in large data sets, we try to develop a model that makes the most of the data. We try to do this in the best way possible – being as critical as we can and using our expertise as economists.”
What kind of data are we talking about?
"CBS (Statistics Netherlands) is a main supplier of data. Their labour force survey is one of the largest conducted in the Netherlands. In it, large groups of people are surveyed annually on all kinds of things, including their profession and education and how many hours they work. We use that data, including how graduates ended up in their profession, to feed our models. The CPB (Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis) makes forecasts about the development of the economy in the coming years. This gives us an indication on how we ought to alter the models. You also have to know how many graduates enter the labour market. The Ministry of Education provides a baseline forecast on how many students are expected to graduate from a certain field of study in the coming years."
This year's report offers hardly any news compared to two years ago; it is still difficult to find workers in technology, care and education. Nevertheless, the report always receives a lot of journalistic attention. How do you explain that?
“In general, the bottlenecks remain the same as two years ago. But the tenacity of the labour market is also newsworthy. Four years ago, we already predicted personnel problems in the technology and education sector – and yet hardly anything has changed in that period. That is worrying. You have to ask yourself what needs to be done to get it moving."
So: what needs to be done to get it moving?
"Good question. One option, which we are investigating with our team, is better dissemination of information to prospective students to help them make well-informed choices. We are now testing this in VMBO (pre-vocational secondary education) and it seems to work. If you tell young people about job opportunities and the wages for the professions that they favour, they are sometimes willing to make different choices. We hope to publish that study next year." (text continues below picture)
Don’t young people already receive extensive guidance regarding their choice of study in the Netherlands?
“That is indeed mandatory, but the crazy thing is that it’s focused purely on discovering what you like. What is your talent? That in itself is a good approach to choosing a study and job, but your talent does not necessarily lead to only one profession or study programme. Of course, you should not push young people cut out for the hospitality industry into technology. They become unhappy students and bad engineers. However, I am convinced that based on what you like, several studies are suitable – and some will have better job opportunities than others.”
Can you give an example?
“Take the MBO (secondary vocational education), where you can train for caring professions, such as hairdressing. You have to be able to deal with people and be caring. And you have to be able to cut hair. In nursing, you also have to be able to deal with people and take care of them, but the job opportunities in care are a lot better. I think this is an important message. Of course, you can still decide that better job opportunities aren’t decisive for you because you don't want to wash people, but rather cut hair. Not everyone alters their choice – but that is not the point. If only part of the young people change their choice based on that new information, it is still enough to restore the balance on the labour market."
The Van Rijn Committee, which has just advised channelling money into technical training at the expense of non-technical training, will be pleased with this report.
“Our forecasts are not intended to support the Van Rijn Report. We find imbalances in the labour market, but the solution is not cutting back on one end and adding it on the other. Training is not only for the labour market, but to allow people to do something that fits with their passion and ability. Not everyone has a passion and a talent for technology. Other programmes are not worthless, even if there are not many job opportunities. You also educate young people to become critical global citizens who contribute to society. If you want to study cultural anthropology because that is where your passion lies, you have to do just that. But you should make that decision with the help of adequate support and good information. "
In a previous report, which looked ahead to 2020, you predicted that the chances of finding a job in that period would be worse for people with a ‘care and welfare’ diploma than in previous years. That wasn't really a problem in recent years, was it? Do you also evaluate the forecasts?
"Are your trying to say: not everything I predict is true?"
I wouldn’t dare to… but how do you explain this?
“Overall, we see that the forecasts are pretty accurate, but 100% is not feasible. When we made that prognosis in 2015, the government indicated that healthcare would be cut considerably. You immediately saw that reflected in the CPB forecasts about the development in the various economic sectors and therefore also in our forecast. In the first few years, you also saw that many people lost their jobs because there were many bankruptcies in the care and welfare sector. So, what happened? Two years later, there were elections. Political parties reversed the cuts to the sector and our forecasts were no longer correct. Politics and policy are hard to predict, just like the economy. So yes, I can be wrong. Certainly if the government makes different budget allocations. That is why it is important to revise the forecasts every two years."
Also read the press release "Worker shortages in engineering, healthcare and teaching set to persist"
About Didier Fouarge
Prof. Didier Fouarge is professor of ‘Dynamics of Skills Allocation’ at the UM School of Business and Economics and research leader ‘Labour Market Dynamics’ at ROA. He has been working there since 2007 and focuses on educational and vocational choice and labour market dynamics.
How is this research funded?
The biennial report ‘The labour market by education and occupation until 2024’ from the Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA) of Maastricht University is funded by the Netherlands Initiative for Education Research (NRO), which is part of the Dutch Research Council (NWO). Four Dutch ministries contribute to the NRO’s funding: Education, Culture and Science; Economic Affairs and Climate Policy; Social Affairs and Employment; as well as Interior and Kingdom Relations. Because this funding is insufficient for the research, the UWV (Employee Insurance Agency), the employment agency Randstad Nederland, and SBB (the Foundation for Cooperation on Vocational Education, Training and Labour Market) also contribute.