EU Commissioner calls for better pay for essential professions

This article is part of our special report Europe’s quest for skills.

In an interview with EURACTIV, the European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit said member states should provide better recognition, pay and working conditions to make certain professions, such as care jobs, more attractive to Europeans.

Commenting on the current skills and labour force shortage facing the bloc, Schmit argued that the EU would benefit from more flexible education systems and more investment in vocational training.

With businesses lamenting a shortage of workers and employment levels at historic highs, the European Commission is pulling all levers in its limited arsenal.

For example, the Commission is expected to present a proposal to facilitate labour migration and recognition of foreign qualifications later this year.

“We all agree that we need legal, professional immigration in a certain number of sectors where there is a high need, which we will not be able to cover from the inside of the EU,”  Schmit told EURACTIV in an interview.

At the same time, member states need to make certain essential professions more attractive to Europeans, he said – solely relying on third-country immigration would be “a big mistake”.

Improving working conditions

“Obviously in some areas, especially care, we need people from outside, but […] we first have to revalue these professions, make them more attractive also for people inside the European Union by better pay and better working conditions,” Schmit said.

The healthcare sector is one of the most affected by labour shortages across the Union. Last September, the World Health Organisation warned that Europe could face a critical shortage of healthcare professionals, due to the ageing workforce and poor working conditions. Low salaries and excessive workload have also led health personnel to strike in several European countries since the pandemic.

Asked whether he thinks the situation of these workers is a priority for EU governments, Schmit said “I think there is an awareness because these professions are now showing that they want improvements.”

“I think this is something which should be taken very seriously,” he added.

Besides low salaries and poor working conditions, Schmit called out the lack of social recognition for certain professions, which are not “sufficiently considered for their role and their importance in our society”.

A problem of recognition

A similar lack of recognition applies more generally to vocational careers, according to the Commissioner, who called on member states to invest more in vocational training to counter labour shortages across Europe.

Young people should be given better guidance and encouraged to go towards professions particularly affected by shortages, Schmit said, adding that the low vocational training uptake in Europe is partly due to a “misperception of different education pathways”.

“In people’s minds, academic education is valued more than professional education,” he told EURACTIV.

“We have to change this perception by giving more value in terms of pay and working conditions to professional education,” he added.

Opening the system

According to the Commissioner, the EU would also benefit from more “open systems” for those who want to change career paths from vocational to academic education and vice versa.

“I think we have to reopen a bit our education system, which is very much in silos,” he said.

A more open approach would allow those who are in vocational training to eventually pass on to higher education, while those in academia could complement their education with vocational training.

However, education is a competence of member states and the EU only has limited influence on national education matters.

Yet, in Schmit’s view, the European Union could still play a role, facilitating exchanges of good practices.

“Even if our educational systems are very different, there are also a lot of common points and common experiences. We have to work together,” he said.


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