Skills assessments: A growing role in tomorrow’s labor market

Apr 20, 2020
5 MIN. READ

In a rapidly changing EU labor market, low-qualified groups face an enhanced risk of exclusion. At the same time, employers face problems finding the right people to fill vacancies. With tailored skills assessments, organizations can find—and then fill—the knowledge gaps on their teams.

Skills demands are changing. Due to a multitude of factors, including technological development, the skill sets required to perform specific tasks shifts rapidly—and workers with a low level of qualification face an enhanced risk of exclusion. At the same time, many employers struggle to find applicants with the right skills. Governments and employers must understand their workers’ entire skill sets to maximize their workforce’s potential and ensure optimal utilization of competencies in the workplace.

Policy interventions must help employers to react quickly to changing demands. At the same time, experienced professionals need the right learning opportunities to update their skills. ICF has supported the European Commission for over a decade to promote flexible learning pathways and the transfer and accumulation of learning from different educational contexts - including work experience and volunteering. This is part of the New Skills Agenda for Europe, a comprehensive initiative aiming to provide the right training, skills, and support to EU citizens, and ensure qualifications respond to regional economic and industrial needs. Assessments. Skills assessments and skills portfolios are a critical part of this: they help to make an individual's skills visible and transparent to employers. Any identified gaps can be filled with tailored training to meet employers’ skills demands as well as further an individual’s career.

Moving from qualifications-centered thinking towards the flexible use of skills from different contexts

The future skills demand in the EU will depend on the types of jobs that the economy creates. There are many projections about the exact kinds of skills needed in the years to come. They tend to suggest that there will be a growing demand for higher-level qualifications (high-level experts, managers, and skilled professionals) and lower-level qualifications (for instance, in the care, hospitality, and leisure sectors)—with middle-tier jobs on the decline.

Skills assessment - A definition

A skills assessment is a process aimed at identifying and analyzing the knowledge, skills, and competencies of an individual—including his or her aptitudes and motivations—to define a career project or plan a professional reorientation or training project.


The results from skills assessments can be made visible and transparent in a skills portfolio. Such portfolios can complement or even replace a traditional CV, as they may contain more meaningful information—especially regarding ‘hidden’ skills that result from volunteering or self-guided learning rather than from training or work experience.

Sudden and radical shifts in technology entail changing skills demands for entire generations of workers. Employers and workers need to constantly reflect on the competencies required for a company, job, or sector; and how this demand can be met. A need for upskilling and re-skilling is likely to emerge in several industries.

Going forward, a paradigm shift is required. Education and training systems need to be highly flexible and responsive to fast-changing demands. They must be structured around a lifelong perspective that enables tailored learning at any point in a person’s career. Workers will have to be even more flexible in the future. Jobs may be more short-lived than in the past, and frequent reorientation may be necessary at multiple points in their careers. As such, workers need opportunities to gain additional skills and move up to a higher level.

All this means that employers looking for qualified staff will not be able to rely on diplomas alone. People can acquire skills in different ways, including lifelong learning, prior work experience, or volunteering.

Skills assessments supports individuals, employers, and policymakers in identifying talent.

Skills assessments supports individuals, employers, and polThe individual usually owns the skills assessment process, as personal ownership results in one of the main effects of a skills audit: better awareness of one's capabilities. Some groups are recommended or obliged to take part in a skills assessment (e.g., certain groups of unemployed people or employees if it is a company-level initiative). In these cases, the skills audits may be owned by employers and public employment services (PES) rather than the individual.cymakers in identifying talent.

The assessment can include narratives of past experiences, interviews, and self-assessments—as well as practical tests. These tasks are managed on an individual basis or guided by a counselor. The output is a portfolio or other documentation—such as a skills card or skills map—and advice on possible next steps. In some cases, audits lead to the validation and certification of skills and the award of a qualification.

Open online platforms offering self-assessment tools are exploding in popularity. In these cases, skills audits typically lead to more general evaluations of a person’s talents and aptitudes, followed by broad-brush career suggestions.

What types of skills assessments are currently on offer?

In 2018, ICF finalized a study on skills assessments for DG Employment, Social Affairs, and Inclusion. The study developed a typology that helps to classify skills assessment initiatives across the EU. According to their purpose and expected outcome, four different types are identified:

  • Type 1: Skills assessments for self-development–These aim to determine what a person is most likely to excel in given his or her skill sets and preferences.
  • Type 2: Skills assessments for educational advancement–These initiatives help establish where a person stands in terms of educational standards and what is needed to advance to the next level.
  • Type 3: Skills assessments for labor market integration–Skills assessments of this category check if an individual’s skill set matches specific job profiles.
  • Type 4: Skills assessments for talent management–These help ensure workers’ skills and competencies are optimally used at the workplace.

This typology is a starting point for further work on skills assessments, e.g., developing tailored tools and high-quality methods for each of the four types, and adapting them to different target groups—including low-skilled workers, migrants, and refugees.

Investing in skills assessments helps a variety of stakeholders prepare for the labor market of tomorrow

Skills assessments are versatile tools that benefit many groups of stakeholders. They support individuals in identifying talents and deciding on the next steps in their careers. They are also a first step to the validation of skills from informal learning and, ideally, a qualification. Where this is not possible, the documentation received helps make skills more visible for employers.

PES use skills assessments to improve their processes of matching job seekers with employment opportunities. Employers use them to decide on the optimal utilization of worker competencies in the company. And, finally, policymakers use broad-scale skills assessments as a tool to support the development of smart skills management strategies—leading to effective deployment of the workforce in, for instance, less prosperous regions.

When looking to the future, these assessments will play an essential role in preparing the workforce for the jobs of tomorrow. Organizations that invest now will reap the benefits as emerging technologies and processes become the norm—placing them at the top of their field.

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By Anette Curth