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Trends such as digitalisation and automation, decarbonisation and (de)globalisation, as well as demographic change, are driving structural change, which is affecting companies’ demand for labour, jobs, tasks and skills in a variety of ways. The demand side of the labour market has always been difficult to analyse. Traditional analyses, such as those based on official data or business surveys, often suffer from significant time lags, a high level of aggregation and/or can only be conducted at high cost.
Against this background, the analysis of online job advertisements represents an interesting alternative. This field has existed for about 20 years and has developed dynamically. The Bertelsmann Stiftung has been working with online job ads since 2018 to obtain granular, real-time information on labour demand. There is now access to a database of over 50 million job ads since 2014 for the German labour market, which is updated monthly to add the most recent data. Using natural language processing and machine learning methods, industries, occupations and skills are extracted from these ads, providing real-time data and (short) time series.
Structural change tends to take place continuously over a longer period of time, so that the information from the job advertisements also provides reliable indications of future skills.
It can be argued that they also entail information about future skills, at least for the near future. This is because companies take into account those skills that will be needed in their job advertisements, with a time horizon of one to three years. In addition, trends that have been taking place since 2014 can be extrapolated into the future. It has to be noted that disruptions making certain professions or skills obsolete abruptly cannot be predicted in such a way. However, in many areas, structural change tends to take place continuously over a longer period of time, so that the information from the job advertisements also provides reliable indications of future skills. Unforeseen emerging skill needs can also be quickly identified.
The analyses show that it is necessary to look at specific industries rather than at the economy in general, simply because of the huge variety of jobs and the associated competencies. Furthermore, it makes sense to divide competencies into three categories: professional skills, which are closely related and specific to the occupation under consideration; transversal skills, which have a cross-occupational character and are often accompanied by soft skills; and digital skills, which can be both occupation-specific and cross-cutting.
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No general statements can be made about occupation-specific professional skills because of the great heterogeneity of occupations, which is still considerable even when the focus is on one industry. The situation is different for transversal competencies. Here, the analysis reveals "classic competencies" that are also in demand today—the ability to work in a team, commitment, self-efficacy, reliability and communication skills—continue to be in high demand.
Digital competencies have become much more important overall in recent years—most notably in occupations where they were previously underrepresented.
But there are also other competencies that have recently gained in importance: resilience is cropping up more frequently, as are health-related skills such as occupational safety or "maintaining employee health". Demand for green skills is also on the rise; some of them quite general such as "environmental protection", but often more specific e.g. "saving energy", "sourcing certified raw materials" or "waste management".
Quality assurance and quality testing are growing competency needs in technical professions. Another transversal competence that is becoming increasingly prevalent in more and more occupations is "developing digital content". Digital competencies have become much more important overall in recent years—most notably in occupations where they were previously underrepresented (for example the occupation of construction supervisor or, more general jobs in services and sales). Across the breadth of industries and occupations, the initial focus is on basic skills, such as operating computers or using common office software. The use of visualisation software is also increasingly in demand.
Overall, it can also be seen that many competencies that have been increasingly in demand recently are often taught at a higher qualification level, for example in tertiary education or in specific training measures instead of vocational training. In this respect, the trend toward upskilling can also be observed in online job advertisements.
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The transversal skills you mention are often skills that older workers have in abundance based on their work and life experience. Finding ways to encourage this group of workers to stay in the labour market is a win win both for employers and employees. It would be interesting to see how other language in job adverts that may put off older workers from applying like: 'high energy', 'dynamic' and in so doing prevent companies from accessing the skills they need.