Europe needs a science and technical skills observatory

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Europe’s prosperity is at risk if its supply of graduate science and technology skills does not meet market needs, according to the authoritative Institute for Employment Studies (IES).

In-depth research across the EU for the European Commission, by IES, revealed selective shortages in particular skills such as IT, and under-utilisation of other, expensively developed skills such as life sciences and some areas of engineering.

However, the research revealed fundamental problems in the available data about the supply and demand of these skills, which are central to the economic performance of Europe. Richard Pearson, Director of IES and an author of the report, called for action to be taken:

'A good supply of science and technology skills is an essential element of our prosperity. Yet knowledge about the flows of scientists and technologists into and out of higher education, in employment and around the EU, is inadequate. The effective operation of these critical labour markets, with skill shortages co-existing with over-supply, requires better information. Existing data sets have major deficiencies and inconsistencies. The establishment of a European science and technology Observatory would be a significant first step, building on our research, to monitor and report regularly on the key trends.'

The Observatory should report on supply and demand trends, and imbalances across the EU, and advise on future information needs. It should do this by co-ordinating inputs from experts in each Member State who in turn would draw from local information sources.

What we need to know about Europe’s scientists and technologists Employer demand is influenced by many factors, including national and international economic climate, historic patterns of national development and structural change, and corporate competitiveness, including competition for skills. The supply side from higher education is also in flux, as many universities seek to become more responsive to student and labour market demands.

However, the European labour market for scientists and technologists varies greatly between occupations, sectors, countries and locations. It is also rapidly changing. While some core data on broad employment trends are good, some widely publicised studies have been rather ad hoc and based on poor research, or undertaken to lobby for more publicly-funded resources. Hence the need for high quality, consistent information to inform would-be students and policy makers in industry, higher education and their various agencies.

Facts and figures from the EU study

  • Numbers of research scientists and engineers in Europe grew from 500,000 in 1985 to 800,000 in 1995: Germany, France and the UK accounted for almost two-thirds.
  • There is no evidence to support theories of a ‘brain drain’ from the EU.
  • Most R&D employers still recruit from within their own countries.
  • In R&D, employers are increasingly looking for recruits to have both personal skills and technical skills. The ability to communicate, adaptability, problem-solving and business awareness are cited as important.
  • 20 per cent of research scientists and engineers were women, in the research and development establishments surveyed.
  • Women account for more than half of those graduating, in most countries.
  • Natural sciences account for 18 per cent of those graduating in Europe, Ireland and France having the largest share.
  • Engineers and technologists account for 24 per cent of graduates in Germany, Finland and Denmark.
  • In some countries, unemployment among newly qualified scientists and technologists has been relatively high. Under-employment and under-utilisation of skills, particularly for some engineers and life science graduates, is found in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK, and at Doctoral level, in France.

The study
The report was based on research funded by the EC and undertaken over the period 1997-99. The IES research was undertaken in collaboration with ROA, the Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market, in the Netherlands, and included a detailed review of the national and international data sources. The researchers contacted 100 European experts and 210 research and development establishments across Europe, and created a pilot econometric model. It forms part of an ongoing IES research programme relating to the highly skilled.
For further information
For further press information about this study and similar work within IES, please contact Richard Pearson on 01273 678184.

Assessing the Supply and Demand for Scientists and Technologists in Europe,

Pearson R, Jagger N, Connor H, Perryman S with de Grip A, Marey P, Corvers F. IES Report 377, February 2001. ISBN 1-85184-306-X. £40.00

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