Skills and workers shortages: meeting with Commissioner Schmit’s cabinet

EuropeOn, representing a sector comprised of 1.8 million professionals, is relentlessly striving to intertwine skills policies with energy and climate ones. Indeed, no matter how high Europe’s and national government’s ambitions are in the fields of energy efficiency, deployment of renewables and electrification, there is no way around addressing the pressing shortage of skilled professionals. This is the reason why we started our Skills4Climate campaign in 2019 and keep on raising awareness to this day.

In this context, EuropeOn’s General Secretary met on 13 July with the cabinet of Commissioner Schmit, who is responsible for jobs, skills and social rights. SolarPower Europe was also at the table, to discuss the skills agenda related to the brand-new Solar Strategy that was released by the Commission in May.

EuropeOn’s General Secretary Julie Beaufils highlighted the ambivalence of skills and workforce challenges in the European Green Deal: on the one hand, the green and digital transition has the potential to fuel job creation; on the other hand, if the adequate workforce is not attracted and trained into these new positions, our collective climate objectives will remain unattainable. The latter appears more likely for the time being: electrical contractors are doing their best to raise the number of apprentices and employees, but even when raising it, it still fails to match an even higher demand.

Our ask can be simply summed up: we need the Commission and Member States to make a top priority of promoting technical education and jobs, because they are essential to implement the Green Deal and will create new inspiring opportunities for jobseekers and students.

Skills and workforce shortages have many causes that can vary from one country to the next, however, it is definitely a common or, better said, systemic issue across Europe. At the root of the problem, many observers mention the poor image of technical education and careers. Pupils, parents, teachers and policymakers often regard technical paths as a secondary option, if not a last resort one, compared to, say, university.

Electrical contracting companies and associations are willing to take up the challenge. During the meeting with Commissioner Schmit’s cabinet, Julie Beaufils showcased recent initiatives, such as: a brand-new apprenticeship in Germany, media campaigns in Belgium, the Netherlands and Finland, a dedicated platform in France, and the Euroskills competitions where the electrical trade is very committed.

In light of such a widely shared concern, EuropeOn called on the Commission representatives to ensure that skills and jobs shortages are duly addressed in the Green Deal’s follow-up package, the “Fit for 55 package”. This is a sensitive topic because, although skills and labour policies are mainly a national competence, overlooking these shortages would undermine the Green Deal that was designed by the European Commission.

The most efficient way for the Commission to act might be to put more pressure on Member States, as they are currently doing on a related file: through the Solar Strategy, the Commission is pushing countries to speed up their national permitting procedures which are another obstacle to the deployment of renewable energy.

Interestingly, on the same day as the meeting with the cabinet, the EU Parliament’s committee for industry and energy (ITRE) adopted its reports on the revision of the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Directives, as part of the Fit for 55 Package. Members of the ITRE Committee made a priority of skills and workforce shortages, by approving several new provisions (see other news). Hopefully, such a stance can be supported by the Commission in the next step of the revision process.

Finally, the Pact for Skills was discussed at the meeting. This Pact was launched by Commissioner Nicolas Schmit, along with Commissioner Thierry Breton, in late 2020. EuropeOn was among the first associations to join this endeavour, in the ecosystems “construction” and “automotive sector”. A new initiative will soon be launched regarding onshore renewables. Julie Beaufils stressed that, given the systemic issue of skills, especially when it comes to technical careers, it is crucial to involve Member States in such projects, which is scarcely the case at the moment. The cabinet replied that this point is being taken into consideration and that there might be more regional initiatives in the near future, that would actively engage with local authorities and public job agencies.

EuropeOn will keep in touch with Cabinet Schmit and DG EMPL (their administration), especially in the context of the Fit for 55 Package which is an unmissable opportunity to better tackle job-related themes.