In February 2020, just a few weeks before the pandemic broke out and the State of Alarm was declared, the unemployment rate in Spain stood at 13.8%. But the confinement, first, and the restrictions on movement and assembly that were maintained for months, led to a profound slowdown in economic activity and a pronounced increase in unemployment. According to data from Infojobs, which in April together with Esade published the report State of the labor market in Spain 2020, The employment portal has registered a total of 1,530,120 vacancies in Spain in the last year, a figure significantly lower than the 2,825,863 published in 2019, which in other words represented a decrease of 46%. But how will the labor market evolve in the medium and long term? Román Campa, general director of Infojobs, reflects on this and other aspects in conversation with EL PAÍS.
Question. In June, the number of unemployed people exceeded three million, and the unemployment rate in the first quarter was 16%. How long will it take to regain pre-pandemic levels?
Answer. From an activity point of view, in 2020 we went back at least two years, to the levels of hiring intention of 2018, and now we are still below 2019. If vaccination works and European funds achieve a reactivation, we will probably return at similar levels in 2023. We are on a good path to recovery, but I don’t think it will be immediate, and in 2022 it looks complicated.
P. What other factors will make this process speed up or slow down?
R. Business confidence plays an important role. With vaccination, as soon as the data improved and the restrictions lowered, the companies showed that they are eager to hire and generate activity. On the other hand, if we return to a strong fifth wave, and after the summer this positivism is left behind, the process can take a long time, because we will be continuously on ups and downs.
The part that can be interesting, if as a country we put it to good use, is the European funds, linked to training and education. upskilling and reskillingof capacities [es decir, mejorar la competencia de aquellos profesionales que están desactualizados y reconvertir a personas de un sector a otro]. Companies are not only looking for digital profiles such as designers and programmers, but also professionals with these types of skills. But, paradoxically, we do not have enough candidates to meet that demand. There are levers in the medium and long term, such as improving Vocational Training or the educational system, which can help; the bootcamps, or all these initiatives of reskilling which can be more tactical and faster. But I have not seen it collected in a structural way in European funds. We have the possibility of accelerating economic recovery if we can recycle people from sector to sector.
P. That is, to use European funds to train professionals and facilitate this transfer.
R. The Transformation, Recovery and Resilience Plan includes, through several of its components, the need to invest in employment, VET and training in digital skills. However, the way in which European funds are being activated is very sectoral or industrial, through large PERTEs such as the automotive sector, for example, where it is said that the PERTE of the electric and connected vehicle will help generate more than 140,000 jobs. I think there is a lack of a transversal initiative that activates these components, that puts the upskilling Y reskilling of professionals through all the PERTEs that are convened. The Training part, of the recycling of unemployed people (or those who, being employed, want to transform themselves), of VET, still does not have the full focus that we should give it to make good use of these funds.
P. Which productive sectors will experience the greatest growth?
R. So far, the only area that has grown in the private sector has been health, which is not surprising. During the pandemic (and even now) it has crept into the top 10 of the sectors with the most demand. Possibly it will not be one of those that will grow the most in the medium or long term, but it will continue. The need for positions such as nurse or elderly caregiver has grown a lot, and those related to health or well-being in general are going to continue to remain strong in the future.
All other sectors have suffered during the crisis, although some, such as new technologies, have been more resilient than others. It’s not just about programmers or developers software, but of the technological services of support to the companies. In the end, all the people who were telecommuting needed support in order to survive. These profiles have been very resilient and will continue to be in high demand in the future. The purchasing, logistics and warehouse part also suffered, but held out better. And then, all the accelerated transformation that we have experienced towards the e-commerce, the digitization of consumption and the logistics that it entails will continue to grow.
P. Beyond purely statistical data, what are some of the shortcomings in the labor market that the pandemic has exposed?
R. It is a complicated question. During the pandemic, it has been interesting to see how positions that seemed less qualified are the ones that have saved us on a day-to-day basis. Those jobs that we have now classified as essential (logistics, distribution …) are the ones that have kept going and have helped us get ahead.
As a labor system, we have also seen that the ERTE issue has been more damaging for people with less training. Companies have been less willing to hire less qualified staff. As there is little need, companies have been more selective in the profile they were looking for, which can also generate greater precariousness in those with less training or experience, or who have had fewer opportunities. It remains to be seen whether it is a one-off issue during the crisis or whether it is a trend that shows that jobs are increasingly specialized and that, therefore, more training is required to find employment.
P. What is the best way to remain a competitive professional?
R. What companies are now looking for goes beyond technical skills (or hard skills): having a specific curriculum or training is no longer enough, but rather soft skills are needed (or soft skills), which have much more weight. This is something in which it can sometimes be more difficult to train personally, but which will increasingly mark the difference between one resume and another: proactivity, teamwork, adaptation to change … These are aspects that companies already include as indispensable characteristics, beyond pure knowledge in a specific area.
P. Is it necessary to undertake profound reforms in the productive system?
R. It is always positive to modify the system so that it is as diversified as possible, because being so dependent on the tourism sector means that a crisis like the current one leaves us much more exposed. We have to take advantage of the investments of European funds to reform the productive part in an efficient and scalable way. It is necessary to see in which areas we can be competitive, so as not to invest in things that have a specific route, but in which later we cannot compete with other countries. The PERTE from automotive to electric vehicles is a perfect example of an area in which Spain already has a powerful industrial fabric, but which runs the risk of becoming obsolete in five years if we do not make that transition. Another sector that could be interesting from this point of view is agriculture, and there are already several initiatives to modernize it.
P. The new curriculum to be introduced in Spain by the Ministry of Education will implement a competence model based on the practical application of knowledge, similar to the one that already works in other countries. How will it influence the training of young people?
R. The new curriculum, in that more competency part, may be aligned with this change that I was talking about in companies, which not only seek you to have a degree or specific knowledge, but also to possess a series of application capabilities such as the teamwork, leading projects, adapting to changes … I believe that it will help young people to develop more in soft skills and to get closer to what the market demands.
But this will also depend on the ability of companies to adapt. Let me explain: in Anglo-Saxon countries, for example, what you study does not necessarily have to be what you work on afterwards. In England, for example, you can find someone who has studied Philosophy but ends up working in marketing, because the part of competencies and applicability is more sought after, rather than hard knowledge. For this change of resume to have all the impact that I think it can have, it also takes an adaptation on the part of companies to recognize this potential when they are hiring. And this will take a while.
P. But you can’t ignore technical knowledge …
R. It depends, of course, on what positions it is. For very junior, recent graduate or first entry positions in the labor market, in other countries they are more open to hiring profiles regardless of hard skills. You can have studied a career and start working in something totally different, or go professionally jumping from one place to another. I think that would even give the labor market more flexibility as well. But you have to make that transition.
P. In Spain, only 12% of students opt for Vocational Training, compared to 29% on the European average. How can increasing this percentage help?
R. If we look at the vacancies that are published in Infojobs, 25% request a Professional Training. In other words, there is a demand in the market for these types of profiles. I believe that VET can be faster than university training in adapting to the needs of the market. Having a VET, and specifically dual, that combines a theoretical part with another practice, can make us faster and more flexible to the productive needs of companies, in such a changing environment as we are in. For example, in technological matters, because programming languages change every two by three; or industrial, as with 5G. How fast is an engineering, a university degree, to adapt and teach its students the latest in technology, compared to a Professional Training in which, in the last two years, you are working for Telefónica, for Cisco, combining that training with the latest technology that is currently being implemented in the market?
P. We mentioned the need to favor the reskilling and the upskilling from the workers. But it is a shared responsibility between professionals and companies, right?
R. Of course. This is like that famous phrase of “What if we train someone and then he leaves?”. Instead, ask yourself “What if we don’t train him and he stays?” Companies must keep all their teams updated and trained; it is a very clear co-responsibility. Where I think that, as a system, we have not solved it, it is in that worker who, for one reason or another, remains unemployed. A loss of traction is generated, and suddenly the train begins to move at two speeds. You have the company, which continues to advance and, possibly, continues to train its workers to a greater or lesser extent; but it will be harder for the person who has been left out each time to reengage if there is not a good system that accompanies them.
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