Skills Transferability Across Borders in Europe – The instruments

To allow easier recognition and evaluation of foreign qualifications across Member States, the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) for lifelong learning was adopted in 2008.It enhances the transparency, comparability and portability of qualifications within the EU. As such, it fosters trust in foreign qualifications during cross-border hiring processes. The EQF serves as a ‘translation grid’ between national qualifications systems, to ensure a fair evaluation of qualifications by the recruiters or the employers (or education institutions) across borders. Employers can better assess qualifications from other EU countries and institutions, even if they do not know them, by comparing these qualifications with national qualifications, to which they are familiar. The logic behind the EQF is to create a ‘single qualification area’ for both workers and employers (Elken, 2015).

The EQF includes eight levels of qualifications. It encompasses all education levels, including qualifications awarded by the formal education and training system of a country, as well as those awarded by accredited private bodies and international sector organisations. It also encompasses qualifications obtained to validate learning that occurs outside formal education – i.e. non-formal and informal learning, although efforts are still ongoing for a comprehensive mapping of these qualifications at national level. The EQF works in combination with national qualifications frameworks (NQFs), in which qualification documents (e.g. diplomas) issued by competent authorities have a reference to the respective EQF level. The EQF includes quality assurance principles for qualifications referenced in NQFs and the EQF (European Commission, 2018).
To make qualifications more understandable for employers, the EQF levels are described in terms of learning outcomes, i.e. knowledge, skills and competences that the qualification holder is expected to have. Having learning outcomes explicitly listed, employers can determine more accurately whether a person’s qualifications are suited for the job and match the needs of the company. This bridges the gap between education and employment and create a common language to increase the attractiveness of foreign qualifications (Elken, 2015; Cort, 2010; European Commission, 2018).

In particular, some professions require a professional qualification recognised by the national authorities in charge. This proved to be a major barrier preventing cross-border hiring and an impediment to free movement of workers in the European single market. Therefore, the efforts on the recognition of professional qualifications were strengthened in 2013 following an evaluation of the 2005 Directive on professional qualifications. The main goal was to simplify and further harmonise the recognition rules to make the recognition process faster, simpler, more accessible and more transparent. Key amendments to the Directive include the creation of the European Professional Card. The card is obtained through a digital procedure and consists in an electronic certificate. It allows to obtain recognition of qualifications quickly and in a simpler manner than before. This procedure is available for care nurses, physiotherapists, pharmacists, real estate agents and mountain guides; however, it has benefitted these professionals to different extents (Adamis- Császár, 2019). The revision of the Directive also includes better access to information and the recognition processes through Single Points of Contact established in each Member State. Between 2014 and 2016, an evaluation was conducted to report the list of regulated professions in each country and barriers that limit access to these professions. As result, the European Commission set up a database of regulated professions in the EU and an interactive map to learn more about access requirements, increasing transparency on national regulations. The database gathers information on regulated professions, statistics, contact points and lists competent authorities.
To make sure that the EQF is accessible and useful for employers (and others actors) and to facilitate the recognition of professional qualifications within the EU, the ENIC-NARIC17 network was created. It supports the recognition of academic and professional qualifications and gives information on candidates’ qualifications and on recognition procedures on demand.

However, it is hard to measure the impact on cross-national mobility that derives directly from the EQF (Bohlinger, 2019; Cedefop, 2018) as very little data are available on that matter. Bohlinger (2019) also recalls that the EQF approach overlooks that international portability of qualifications is often limited by other types of barriers. For example, assessment of foreign qualifications is influenced by perceptions of the relative prestige of countries and foreign institutions (Drowley and Marshall 2013). Regarding recognition of professional qualifications, in particular, regulatory barriers remain. Information on regulatory requirements in the EU Regulated Professions Database, as well as in equivalent national websites is often incomplete. Moreover, the low level of awareness among professionals has considerably constrained the efficiency of these initiatives (Adamis-Császár, 2019). These limitations remain even higher in the case of extra-EU qualifications (OECD, 2019).

To allow comparability and assessment of skills beyond qualifications obtained through formal education and training, Europass is an online portfolio of documents that aims to present skills in a multidimensional way. As such, it supports cross-border labour mobility, increasing the comparability and transparency of qualifications, but also of skills and work experience (European Commission, 2013b). It displays knowledge, skills and competences acquired through academic, professional or volunteering experiences in a standardised and clear manner recognised throughout Europe (Calzolari, 2016; European Commission, 2013b). This addresses employers’ time constraint, lack of trust and potential cultural barriers in international recruitment processes, as it provides a uniform reference to evaluate applicants (Calzolari, 2016).

The Europass portfolio is a collection of five documents. Two of them are freely accessible online and can be completed by candidates: the Europass Curriculum Vitae (CV) and the Language Passport. Thanks to these documents, employers can scan skills, qualifications and experiences of candidates. In particular, the Europass CV template fulfils several functions that can help employers. Thanks to the template, CVs can be compared more easily and quickly, even if from abroad. CVs can also be uploaded into databases thanks to the ‘Europass to spreadsheet’ tool, an application that aggregates the content of Europass CVs in an Excel sheet (Cedefop, 2017). The Language Passport provides a self-evaluation grid using the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. It also provides the opportunity to list the certificates awarded to the candidate and describe linguistic and cultural experiences linked to learning the language. As mentioned previously, lack of language proficiency is an important barrier preventing cross-border hiring. Providing clear evaluation criteria for language skills contribute to lowering this barrier.

The three other documents of the Europass Portfolio are issued by education and training authorities. The Europass Mobility describes skills acquired through experiences abroad. The Certificate Supplement for holders of vocational education and training certificates and the Diploma Supplement for holders of higher education degrees provide proof of these qualifications. These documents contain detailed information of the learning outcomes of each qualification and experience certified. Proof of evidence can be uploaded as attachment to the CV, including scans of qualifications, certificates, course transcripts, NARIC statements of comparability, proof of employment and reference letters. Digitally-signed credentials are being introduced in Europass, to a provide proof of a learning achievement. These are released directly by the awarding body and can substitute paper certifications, enhancing trust in the proof of evidence provided (European Commission, 2019b).

The European Commission (2013b) considers that Europass has been a quite successful tool. Between February 2005 and November 2019, 150 million Europass CVs have been created online. Visits to the Europass portal and CVs generated online increased by around 13 % in 2019. However, the Commission acknowledges that, despite being recognised in 34 countries, the Europass Portfolio is not well known by employers and the wider public, and especially among the low-skilled segments of the workforce (European Commission, 2013b). It might also be less suitable for some sectors such as the creative industry or communication, in which having a standardised CV can be a disadvantage and recruitment processes follow slightly different procedures and assessment of candidates’ profiles.

To have a common framework to evaluate some key skills beyond qualifications, the Europass CV includes sections on digital and language skills. These sections provide a self-assessment grid based, respectively on the European Digital Competence Framework for Citizens (DigComp 2.0) and the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

The DigComp 2.0 is an instrument for (self) assessment, validation and recognition of digital skills. It provides a conceptual understanding of digital skills and a common terminology for employers to assess the digital skills of applicants (Beblavý et al., 2019). It builds on five competence areas: information processing, content creation, communication, problem solving and safety. The candidate can choose from three levels of proficiency – i.e. basic, independent or proficient user, relying on examples of real-life situations for the self-assessment.
The Common Reference Framework for Languages (CEFR) provides reference for employers to judge the candidates’ language skills. It distinguishes different language abilities – i.e. spoken interaction, spoken production, writing, listening, and reading. The CEFR aims precisely at increasing transparency of language skills by providing an international standard for assessment. It describes language ability on a six-point scale to evaluate different levels of proficiency. Language proficiency requirements to work in a country are increasingly more and more based on the CEFR.

To facilitate both intra- and extra- EU labour mobility and skills transferability, the EU fosters networks of national and regional organisations. These networks address information deficiency and time constraints faced by employers when having to investigate foreign credentials in the profiles of candidates from another country. They also provide guidance and information on the cross-border recruitment process (European Commission, 2013a). In particular, the European Network of Public Employment Services (EURES) facilitates cross-border hiring thanks to a thousand advisors, in national and regional centres, available to answer specific questions.
EURES addresses several barriers preventing cross-border hiring mentioned in this paper, such costs of screening applications and identifying the right skills profiles among foreign candidates (European Commission, 2013a). It provides a free service of matching companies’ job vacancies with candidates’ CVs on the online EURES job mobility portal. Both vacancies and CVs can be uploaded on the online portal and then matched. This can be of valuable help particularly for SMEs who struggle to find the time to screen foreign applications with unknown qualifications and often have to rely on more informal processes to recruit abroad (IOM, 2013). EURES provides support also in navigating the administrative procedures for hiring from abroad. These also represents an impediment for employers, especially for SMEs, in cross-border hiring, increasing administrative burdens and waste of time in recruitment (OECD, 2019). EURES’ support is for before, during and after the recruitment process. It includes legal and administrative advice, information on equivalence of qualifications, facilitation of video-conferencing for interviews, organisation of job fairs, like the European Online Job Days, advising on training opportunities and follow-up of new employees.

The services provided by EURES are under monitoring and evaluation as part of the Single Market Scoreboard. Employers’ access to EURES could be strengthened by increasing awareness about the services provided. In December 2017, around 10,700 employers were registered, among which 28% were from Germany. This is nevertheless a significant increase compared to previous years, when

The instruments reviewed can not only support and improve employers’ practices by lowering different types of barriers. As they become increasingly used by employers, the tools and concepts that these instruments offer can feed into further research on the topic. Despite the progress, however,, the use of some of these instruments among European employers is still rather limited. This might be due to several reasons, among which the OECD (2019) reports persisting limitations in cross-border labour market matching, such as costly and lightly procedures to hire from abroad, cultural differences and limited opportunities for face-to-face interviews. Overcoming these barriers is indeed the aim of these instruments but this is likely to happen through a gradual and long-term process. Therefore, even if these tools are interesting data sources in many regards, researchers willing to rely on them in their analysis should take into account in their research design their potential bias towards certain groups of employers or job seekers, which may lead to lack of representativeness, and include other data sources or mitigation measures.

For example, the EQF is an important reference in studies that investigate skills transferability across countries, because the level of skills of mobile and migrant workers is very often defined according to the level of their qualifications in EQF (e.g. European Commission, 2020). The EQF is also a key component in the development of the European multilingual classification of European Skills, Competences, Qualifications and Occupations (ESCO). This classification allows for comparing and analysing labour market information. It provides a taxonomy for occupations, qualifications and skills that is used for data analysis, including from online vacancies (European Commission, 2017; Cedefop, 2019).

The frameworks for conceptualisation and measurements of specific skills included in the Europass portfolio instruments, such as the DigComp2.0 and the CEFR, can serve to a similar aim. They can provide a reference to collect data on these skills and compare these data in labour market studies (e.g. Beblavý et al., 2019), including those that analyse how these are transferred across borders.

The EU instruments can also be a relevant source of data on cross-border hiring practices. The EURES job mobility portal contains relevant information on the European and international labour market. This data can be generated from the portal using web-crawling methods, as openly accessible (e.g. See Kurekova et al., 2016). It includes a significant amount of job vacancies and CVs, and how these are matched. It represents a good source of micro-level data on the content of job advertisements published for cross-border hiring. As such it provides information on employers’ demand for skills and competences during cross-border hiring. It is also an interesting source of data to investigate recruitment outcomes, the extent to which cross-border hiring leads to skills match or mismatch between the supply and demand sides of the labour market (Kurekova et al., 2016). EURES has already been used for web-scraping to identify skills demanded in some low- and medium-skilled occupations and to understand employers’ preferences in terms of cognitive and non-cognitive skills (Kurekova et al., 2016). The comparability of EURES data also offers significant advantages for comparative analyses, since vacancies and CVs uploaded follow the ESCO classification (Kurekova et al., 2016). To give an example on how these data can also inform on employers’ practices in cross border hiring, the data provided by the portal could for example be used to analyse whether information on foreign qualifications within the job application is an incentive to select foreign workers. Moreover, to get a more in-depth understanding of employers’ cross-border hiring practices, EURES can provide a rich source of contacts for qualitative research. Qualitative data to collect through surveys, focus groups or interviews of EURES users and advisors can provide useful information. Indeed, EURES advisors answer employers’ requests on legal and organisational aspects of hiring from abroad, and should thus have a good knowledge on their practices and views.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story @ Methods and Tools for Researching Employers’ Practices and Skills Transferability Across Borders – CEPS


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