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Signs of improvement in European job market

Cedefop - 23/04/2022

Given the unprecedented challenges the COVID-19 pandemic brought about, its impact on EU employment and jobs appears to be less severe than many people feared and there were clear signs of improvement in 2021.

A new set of data and an analytical report published by Cedefop’s skills intelligence. look at how the pandemic affected employment and skill demand in Europe since the beginning of 2020.

In 2019, EU employment reached a peak with almost 200 million jobs. A growing population and economic growth resulted in a net increase of more than 12 million jobs since 2011.

Inevitably, the pandemic interrupted these positive trends. In 2020, more than 2.5 million jobs were lost. Unemployment increased, the share of young people not in employment, education, or training (NEETs) rose, and fewer adults took part in education and training.

Accommodation and food, administrative services, and construction were amongst the hardest-hit sectors in 2020. Job growth in ICT services, energy supply services, and public sector and defence helped offset some of the employment losses elsewhere.

It is an improving picture for 2021. ICT should still be the top growing sector and some sectors which lost jobs the year before, such as wholesale and retail, transport and storage or construction, will have created new jobs.

However, the pandemic likely caused further employment losses in the accommodation and food sector, and appears to have accelerated job losses in agriculture or the arts and recreation sectors in 2021 (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Employment change in the EU by sectors (2019-20 and projection for 2021, in %)

Employment change in the EU by sectors

Source: Skills intelligence indicators based on EU LFS data and LFS main indicators. Own calculations.

The degree to which people are able to telework clearly separates growing and declining sectors, a finding that has been confirmed in several studies. Sectors providing high-end or specialised services fared relatively well in the first year of the pandemic, while jobs were lost in construction and manufacturing, albeit less than initially feared. Most jobs were lost in less skill-intensive services which rely heavily on direct contact with customers or clients, such as accommodation and food, trade, and administrative services (mostly rental, leasing, employment services and travel agencies).

The share of the so-called high-tech occupations, mainly ICT specialists and science and engineering professionals, in sectoral employment can be considered a proxy for technological advancement. The most technologically advanced sectors overcame the 2020 crisis best, while the least technology-intensive ones lost most jobs.

Figure 2: Technological advancement and employment change by sector

Technological advancement and employment change by sector

Source: Skills intelligence indicators based on EU LFS and High-tech occupations indicator data. Own calculations. Circle size indicates sector’s total employment size.

Occupational level trends confirm that some labour market segments were quite sensitive to the impact of the pandemic, while others proved to be relatively resilient. High-skill occupations in science and technology, but also learning, culture and social occupations, had a net job growth in 2019-20 and most occupations which are typically office-based performed better. Many jobs were lost in hospitality, sales and personal services occupations, and employment in production and construction also declined sharply (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Employment change in main job areas (2019-20, in thousands)

Employment change in main job areas

Source: Skills intelligence indicators based on EU LFS. Own calculations.

While 2021 data are still being processed, analysis of monthly developments show that key labour market indicators are likely to improve. For example, the seasonally adjusted monthly unemployment rate in December 2021 dropped to 7%, the lowest since the height of the economic boom prior to the great financial crisis.

Cedefop’s skills OVATE analysis of online job advertisements (OJAs) brings further up the optimistic expectations. OJAs tracked by the Cedefop system grew by 52% compared to 2020, and almost doubled since the pre-pandemic year of 2019. While not every OJA leads to a successful hire, such signals nevertheless show that the European job market is back on track.

Read the full Cedefop data insight.

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