Mapping the shortest route to (re)employment

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The policy examples from this article will be under the spotlight during the OECD Local Development Forum, which will take place in Cork, Ireland, on 15-17 June 2022. This event is organised as part of the Local Employment and Economic Development programme (LEED) Programme, which marks its 40th anniversary this year. Since 1982, the mission of LEED has been to create good jobs in great places.

The Eindhoven region in The Netherlands was nominated as the world’s smartest region in 2011. It has long been a breeding ground for technological innovation and startups. However, the region is facing a growth paradox. On the one hand, the local high-tech industry is flourishing and home to many key international players. On the other hand there are also a growing number of citizens who are not able to keep up with the requirements of the jobs of today and tomorrow. This skills gap has forced some key international players, such as ASML, to look for qualified personnel across national borders.

Unprecedented shortages

This issue is not unique to Eindhoven.  The Dutch statistical office recently showed a historically unprecedented situation in which there are more vacancies than job seekers across The Netherlands. The number of employees working in a high demand occupation – 38% in 2020 – reached 82% early this year1.

Making matches

Yet while these are positives for job seekers (due to a wealth of job opportunities), there remains a group of  1,2 million people in The Netherlands comprising individuals who could work, but who largely remain on the sidelines. This group includes the unemployed, people who wish to work more hours, as well as discouraged job seekers2. Over time, their distance to the labour market is likely to grow due to an increasing skills gap. For a country with a working population of 9,7 million, the size of this group is both significant and alarming.

How can we tackle this? One key factor is improving the matching of people to jobs. Both companies and job seekers spend lack information about roles and candidates to make the right choices – one of the reasons why we have a thriving recruitment industry. A lack of good information also sets back proactive efforts to upskill and reskill workers.

Many job seekers could be a great match for available jobs with the right advice and investment in their skills.

Ronald Lievens, Tilburg University

Improving transparency through a “Passport for Work”

This is where the Passport for Work project comes in. The project is led by the city of Eindhoven together with 9 other project partners including the Dutch public employment service, Tilburg University, as well as industry representatives. At its core, it represents an online platform, where job seekers and employers are guided to identify their skillsets and their skill needs. Job seekers engage in gamified assessments to build their “passport for work”: an overview of their skills and other professional attributes (such as personality and interests).

This achieves three things:

  1. First of all, by gamifying the assessments, the platform makes it easier and more engaging for job seekers. It is simply more fun to do.
  2. Second, it helps to identify broader skillsets – beyond just academic qualifications.
  3. Third, it reduces bias in human decision making. Instead of making assumptions based on someone’s CV or first impression at a job interview, skill based matching compares occupational requirements with someone’s skills in a purely objective manner.

The smart bit

Information from employers and job seekers is then used for algorithm-based matchmaking. In case of a small skills gap standing in between a job seeker, and a job, targeted eLearning and training modules are provided directly within the platform.

To drive the best matching, PfW is contributing to a national skills language. Occupational skill needs were identified for 25 occupations in the health care, technical, and construction industry (representing the initial scope of the PfW project), validated by questionnaires among thousands of Dutch employers and workers. Together, they provided input on the relevance, as well as the appropriate mastery level for over 100 skills, for each of the 25 occupations.

The platform also benefits from psychometric validation of the online assessments. This helps ensure the validity and reliability of skill data, but also to achieve economies of scale for its users. After all, Passport for Work includes 57 skills. It is a sheer impossible task to develop assessments for each of these skills. However, through psychometric analysis, these 57 skills were reduced to 6 clusters, with each cluster entailing merely a handful of assessments. This benefits the job seeker (whose time investment is shortened significantly), as well as the employer (who is aided in the interpretation of a job seeker’s skills through clearcut clusters, preventing information overload).

  1. UWV labour market tightness indicator.
  2. CBS dashboard Dutch occupational data.

Passport for Work

Passport for Work (PfW) is a three-year urban innovation project, funded through the Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) scheme. The project is led by the city of Eindhoven, previously elected the world’s smartest region. Together with 9 other project partners (among which the Dutch public employment service, Tilburg University, as well as industry representatives), the city aims to increase the labour participation of its citizens, to make sure its regional labour market remains competitive as well as inclusive.

Read more on the OECD work on adult learning in cities.

Tilburg University | Website | + posts

Ronald Lievens, PhD, is a scholar at Tilburg University. His topics of research include urban innovation, HRM and labour market studies. Specifically, his research focuses on the utility of skill based matching for employers, job seekers, educational institutes and the labour market as a whole. At the moment, he is part of the Passport for Work project team in Eindhoven. Alongside his work in Eindhoven, he is acting as UIA expert for the Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) initiative, to contribute to the implementation of innovative urban projects.

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