European Labour Supply and Utilisation in Science and Engineering
(Theme 2: Human Resources/Labour Market issues in European S&T;)

Helen Connor
Richard Pearson
Dr Gill Court


The overall aim of the project was to provide a foundation of labour market information which would improve the level of knowledge and understanding of the developing trends and associated issues relating to Human Resources in Science and Technology (HSRTs) in Europe. In particular, it aimed to provide an improved level of comparable baseline information and analysis on the supply and utilisation of HRSTs in European countries. This was a baseline study which would identify, at international and national levels, the available evidence, levels of interest and expertise of other researchers and organisations, major data deficiencies and key labour market trends, and identify priority areas for further more in-depth work (eg in stage 2 of the programme).

The research approach was at two levels:

  • at a European level, where evidence (mainly data) from national and international sources was collated, in order to map the main characteristics and trends across Europe
  • at an individual country level, where further assessments were undertaken focusing on six individual countries - France, Spain, Ireland, Netherlands, Germany and the UK. These were undertaken in collaboration with individuals in each country and provides contrasting perspectives on national labour markets focusing especially supply systems and graduate output, stocks, international mobility, evidence of shortages and factors likely to have an influence on future labour market trends.

In addition, in order to fill an identified gap in the available data on cross-border recruitment patterns, a survey of over 100 R& D centres (mainly industrial and public, not universities) was undertaken.

Main Results

Europe has a growing population of HRSTs which is estimated at around 1 million in size, but which represents less than 1 per cent of the EU total labour force. It is impossible to obtain an accurate figure for the total stock, or a breakdown of its main characteristics (eg age, gender, qualification, occupation) because of the generally poor quality of the available comparative data. Despite improvements in international databases and data collection there are major deficiencies in the available HRST data mainly because of the variety of definitions used across and within countries, but also because of differences in national higher education systems, accessing data within countries and disaggregating small populations within larger data sets. Stock data is particularly problematic as relatively little exists at the disaggregated level of occupational/industrial sector by qualification level.

At the individual country level there are striking differences in the size of the HRST stock, both in terms of absolute numbers and per head of population, the pattern of employment of HRSTs across sectors and occupations, and growth rates. These differences are mainly explained by a combination of economic and political factors pertaining to each country. The UK appears to be one of the few countries to have experienced a decline in R& D personnel in the last decade.

Similarly, the supply of HRST graduates varies greatly between countries. This is a reflection of widely different education systems. Undoubtedly there is some undercounting in international statistics of vocational qualifications and vocational education routes. There are also national policy differences in the emphasis given to directly influencing the supply of engineering skills to overcome persistent skill shortage problems and to encouraging more women to follow engineering careers.

Currently, skill shortage problems are not a major issue in the HRST labour market. Graduate unemployment rates are high in most countries, mainly as a consequence of the prolonged economic recession which is still affecting countries to varying degrees. There are concerns, however, in most countries about likely emerging shortages as business expansion starts to accelerate, and at a qualitative level, in the calibre and skills or graduates.

Clearly the HRST labour markets of different European countries vary considerably in terms of size, structure and trends. The main influences on them continue to be developments in national systems and national policies. European policies in areas of economic development, science, education and training tend to form the context for national developments rather than directly influencing them. Three areas of national policy have been identified as particularly influential - education supply, innovation and public support of R&D.;

The study of European R& D centres looked at non-national recruitment and employment. The survey indicated that the employment of non-national scientists had increased over the past five years in more than half of organisations. In addition, about a quarter thought that the number of non-nationals recruited would increase over the next five years. The need for specific expertise and factors related to the internationalisation of science were key issues in trends in non-national employment. International activity also featured highly among the methods for identifying potential non-national recruits. This suggests that European policies designed to promote transnational networks may encourage transnational recruitment and employment.

A European labour market with recognisable elements of coherence and boundaries is hardly detectable at present. It is gradually emerging, as shown by the increasing transnational movement of HRSTs and the importance of international experience in career development identified in the study of R& D centres. Current EU policies to increase mobility will promote this trend, but the process of change to a true European labour market for HRSTs will be gradual. For the foreseeable future, by and large, countries will continue to resource the vast majority of their needs for high level skills from within their indigenous populations.

Implications for Policy and Practice

There is a need to analyse how national policies interact with those at a European level in order to gain a better understanding of future labour market developments in better countries.

The increasing mobility between countries may create different degrees of supply imbalances in different countries and will need closer monitoring. The increased flow from Eastern Europe to various destination countries will be an added factor.

There are different country models for resourcing HRST skill needs. It is not clear why some are more successful than others. Further explorations of resourcing strategies would be beneficial.

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