The European Economy, and thus that of all Member States within it, depends on possessing and using knowledge and skills that will allow it to be competitive with the rest of the world. The European labour market is becoming increasingly demanding, and Europe’s labour force is becoming more skilled and better qualified with the passage of time. However, given the rapid pace of innovation and new technologies, as well as the lack of communication between the worlds of work and education, there are concerns that there is a skills mismatch between the competences that educational systems provide to students and those demanded by the labour market.
Skills mismatch as a term refers to the various imbalances and incompatibilities between skills offered and skills needed in the labour market. It is true, that even nowadays, despite the wide diffusion of multimedia and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT’s) in all aspects of life, including education, in most European countries the educational systems are still based on traditional classroom activities. Moreover, education providers have little knowledge and understanding as well as, most of the times, no experience on the skills needed to meet the expectations of employers and the requirements of the labour market.
The Eurofound’s 2013 European Company Survey indicated that “around 39% of employers faced difficulties recruiting staff” whereas the Cedefop European Skills and Jobs Survey indicates that “a fifth of EU adult employees has lower skills than needed when starting their jobs”. These results indicate the skills mismatch at recruitment and highlight the need to bridge the gap between studies and practical knowledge and experience needed in the labour market.
Bearing in mind the aforementioned, it appears that there is a growing need to enhance learning methods and processes and connect them with the world of work. European Institutions, policymakers and Education and Training providers need to ensure that occupational requirements are met through adequate education and training. The extent to which this process is successful is a major factor shaping labour market outcomes, economic growth, productivity, and competitiveness.
In the following paragraphs, we are going to focus on Vocational Education and Training which concerns the tourism sector in Europe, and, particularly, on how “work-based learning” can play a crucial part in it. Skills mismatch is among the fundamental problems hampering the competitiveness of the tourism industry. Competences and skills acquired by the future tourism professionals during education and training often do not match the expected performance and do not cover future professional needs. At the same time, youth unemployment in the European Union remains high and many tourism enterprises are missing out on the best talent. As recognised by the latest Communications on VET, a properly functioning VET system including both on-the-job and off-the-job learning can make a strong contribution towards economic development and social cohesion (European Commission, 2012; 2010).