Project Untangled

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Project Untangled



    Legal migrants from both European and non-European countries are helping address labour shortages in many EU economies, filling positions in sectors that struggle to attract and retain local workers, and taking jobs that are less desirable to natives, a recent paper by Project UNTANGLED found.


    The study finds, migrants take up positions in sectors such as agriculture, construction, trade, and healthcare, and often have different occupational preferences from native workers.


    In their paper, “Migration and the Evolution of Skill Supply and Demand”, Ronald Bachmann, Aya Elewa, Ludivine Martin, Isabelle Rabaud, Bertrand Verheyden, and Marcel Voia delve into the disparities in education and age between migrant and native workers. The study also sheds light on how migrants are distributed across various business sectors, occupations, and regions.


    “On a labour market profoundly impacted by digitalisation, globalisation, and demographic changes, it is vital to identify recent trends in labour shortages and recognise which skills are requested” says Ronald Bachman, a labour economist at the RWI – Leibniz Institute for Economic Research. “Our study suggests that migrants are more willing to undertake jobs that may be less desirable to native workers, thereby addressing labour gaps in these occupations.”


    The study reveals that migrants are unevenly distributed across sectors, occupations, and regions. They are predominantly employed in medium- and low-skilled occupations, while high-skilled roles are primarily filled by native workers. However, North American migrants exhibit higher representation in high-skilled occupations, setting them apart from other migrant groups.


    The study also shows that about two-thirds of migrants lack a tertiary degree, particularly those from emerging and developing countries.


    In 2021, migrants from Asia and Latin America were found to be more actively involved in wholesale and retail trade, as well as other service-oriented industries; those from North America are more active in financial and professional services, as well as in public administration, education, and the health sector, while migrants from Europe and Africa are much more dispersed across all sectors.


    Shortages by occupation: the challenges in Germany and France


    Researchers zoomed in on the characteristics of migrant employees and demand for labour in France and Germany, the EU’s two largest economies. Their analysis shows that migrants were not evenly distributed across these countries. In France, they were primarily found in the region surrounding Paris (Ile de France), while in Germany they were concentrated in four regions: Baden Württemberg, Bayern, Nordrhein Westfalen, and Hessen.


    In 2021, five high-skilled occupations, primarily in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, were identified as facing shortages in both countries. At the top of the list of undersupplied occupations in Germany were medical doctors, followed by database and network professionals. Meanwhile, food preparation assistants and cleaning workers were the most oversupplied. In France, mathematicians, actuaries and statisticians, and legal professionals were the high-skilled workers who were hardest to find, followed by other health professionals.


    The research found that in 2021, Germany faced a higher number of occupations in shortage than France. However, the German labour market was successfully addressing these shortages through the presence of migrant workers from EU and non-EU countries.


    “To address these shortages, it may be necessary to increase domestic education in these fields or attract more skilled migrants,” Ludivine Martin, a researcher at the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research said. “In terms of the evolution of skills demand, we observe that the similarity of requested skills over the period 2019 to 2021 is higher for high-skilled occupations than for medium-skilled ones.”


    The authors have some recommendations on how companies can overcome the current labour shortages. They propose strategies such as training and education programmes for existing employees, and partnerships with educational institutions to develop a skilled workforce pipeline. Meanwhile, policymakers should address the challenges faced by highly-skilled non-European migrants in having their qualifications acknowledged in the EU, as the mismatch between their skills and local labour market requirements can lead to underutilisation of their expertise and hinder efforts to alleviate shortages in specific occupations.


    Bachmann, R., Elewa, A., Martin, L., Rabaud, I., Verheyden, B., & Voia, M. (2023). Migration and the evolution of skill supply and demand (Deliverable 3.3). Leuven: UNTANGLED project 1001004776 – H2020.


    The paper is available here.

    2021 © UNTANGLED. All rights reserved.
    This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101004776

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