What Happened to the Matchmaking in European “Marriage Market”?

Written by | Monday, April 14th, 2014
Arif Budiman

The Labour Market Survey 2013 has lately revealed that among Europeans aged between 15 and 74, in 2013, there were about 216 million employed persons, 26 million unemployed ones and 137 million economically inactive ones. The striking fact is though that, out of all those employed ones, about a fourth was employed only part-time although they wished to work more. Out of 43 million of part-timers almost 10 million said that they felt underemployed. Thus, not only is the unemployment rate in the EU28 about 11 percent (almost 26 million Europeans) but additional 10 million are feeling idle.
Economists like to call the labour market “a marriage market”. It is because in an ideal scenario, an individual with a particular set of skills is matched with a job position that requires that particular set of skills that he or she possess. Just like dating before a wedding, the process of job search is one of matchmaking when one tries to find a “partner” that will not only fit their education, skills, and individual characteristics, but will also sharpen and develop their potential just like a real life partner. Sometimes, matchmaking is not as easy and straightforward as one would wish for. Sometimes, a matchmaker is needed.
In the labour market, the government or a similar authority assumes the role of such a matchmaker by setting up rules for labour market to function properly. The European Union is also such a matchmaker but its performance in matchmaking is not very satisfactory. The European labour market is characterized by a terrible mismatch between the needs of the market and what universities produce, which is additionally reinforced by the consequences of outsourcing. This phenomenon is not a problem of only Eastern and Central Europe anymore, but touches the entire European Union including its core economies.
Europeans tend to think that outsourcing is solely an issue of developing and emerging economies. They imagine giant transnationals moving their production from Europe to Asia, stealing jobs from Western workers. Yet, they do not realize that outsourcing functions even on a much smaller scale. Outsourcing takes place even in the European Union itself. It was not so long ago when Western EU countries were the hub of services provision, and notably analytics and research. It is no longer so.
International consultancies have realized that the same quality of analytical work can be achieved in new EU member countries but at a much lower price. For every analytical position created in, let’s say, in Poland or Hungary, somebody is losing a job in, let’s say, Germany or France. It is the same thing like when a factory worker loses a job in Poland or Hungary because the factory is moved to China or India. Thus, outsourcing is not solely about manufacturing anymore but it gives its momentum to the entire structure of global economy – a phenomenon that Brussels fails to realize.
Matchmaking is a difficult business – what to do with those who lose a job due to outsourcing? How to match-make then? Matchmaking in the European “marriage market” suffers from this problem which is why it is failing more and more in finding economically active Europeans for positions that meet their skills. The answer to this problem probably lies in a lengthy process of re-qualification. Yes, re-qualification is hard because it usually takes a long time and it is difficult to do the older you are. Therefore, the “re-qualification” should start already at school. More than ever before, it is crucial that educational institutions – whether high schools, colleges, or graduate schools – really start producing graduates in both quality and numbers that will match the needs of the labour market.
In order words, it makes no sense to produce thousands of lawyers when the economy needs only hundreds, or to produce hundreds of IT specialists when the economy needs thousands. Perhaps, Brussels should try to make EU Member States harmonize their school-reality ratios so that the European marriage market will not leave millions of people without the possibility to contribute with their skills and expertise to the well-being of the whole European Union. As William E. Barrett once put it – “Hunger is not the worst feature of unemployment. Idleness is.”

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