Skills and migration

Designing and implementing sound labour market information systems, including accurate labour market needs assessment and skills anticipation, and putting in place processes for skills recognition are important to prevent brain waste and deskilling, poor labour market integration and deterioration of working conditions for all workers. Access to skills recognition processes, especially for low- and medium-skilled migrant workers, is often limited, while migrants frequently encounter difficulties in articulating their experiences from the destination countries into better human resources development opportunities on their return.

There is no uniform definition of “skills.” In many countries “skills” are defined in terms of occupational skills and/or educational attainment levels. Similarly, there is no single methodology for skill needs analysis. However, what has proved to be useful in the experience of major destination countries, e.g. the European Union member States, is a holistic approach: a combination of qualitative analysis (e.g. case studies, focus group discussions) as well as quantitative data (e.g. surveys, skill audits, model-based projections). Long-term skill forecasts are usually carried out at the national level, whereas short-term forecasts are conducted at the regional or local levels, often through the network of the Public Employment Services (PES) .

In many origin countries, skill forecasting methods are either non-existent or implemented on a limited basis, often due to data scarcity. Furthermore, the dynamic nature of labour markets as a result of economic globalization and the presence of a large informal sector make the exercise of skills identification and skills matching even more challenging for both potential and return migrants.

The ILO’s approach


At the national level, providing capacity building for data collection and skill needs analysis will assist origin countries to implement more effective and efficient employment and training policies.

Further, Public Employment Services play an essential role in job search and job matching processes and the ILO has been delivering capacity building for improved counselling services for job seekers, including potential and return migrants. Private recruitment agencies can also have an important responsibility in the matching process for labour migration. Therefore, it would be necessary to carry out up-to-date analysis at the country-level of the functioning of both of these entities and provide policy recommendations for improvement of the relevant legislative and operational mechanisms.

Work to improve skills identification and matching should be combined with broader efforts to enhance coherence between employment, skills and migration policies, with the active participation of government institutions and the social partners. These coordinated efforts will also result in a better information exchange between the education system and the labour market, thus providing the basis for up-to-date skills information and forecasting.

In recent years, National Qualification Frameworks (NQFs) have been seen as an instrument for harmonizing highly heterogeneous skills development systems, as well as a tool for facilitating educational mobility across the entire education and training system. The ILO advises a careful assessment of NQFs feasibility at the national level. A milestone in this direction has been the 2008 ILC report on skills and productivity. In 2010, the ILO conducted a research programme "The implementation and impact of National Qualification Frameworks", focused on the experience of developing and implementing NQFs in 16 countries world-wide.

ILO’s mandate and instruments


Skills development, training organizations and training delivery systems should be strengthened by promoting a life-long learning approach, as highlighted also by the ILO Recommendation 195 on Human Resources Development, 2004. This frame should be translated at a system level by designing and implementing policies, aimed at identifying occupational requirements, which can be translated into occupational and educational standards. The success of these policies depends on the endorsement of the tripartite constituents; therefore provision of adequate capacity building to them is crucial.

The ILO Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration (2006) states: “promoting the recognition and accreditation of migrant workers’ skills and qualifications and, where that is not possible, providing a means to have their skills and qualifications recognized’’ (Principle VI – Prevention of and Protection against Abusive Migration Practices).

The Conclusions of the 2013 ILO Tripartite Technical Meeting on Labour Migration call for sound labour market needs assessment and skills recognition, including among other actions to “…explore mechanisms for mutual recognition of skills, and certification of credentials built on ILO experience and with the active involvement of the social partners; in this regard, seek to encourage and support existing institutions and initiatives that have the potential to facilitate labour market integration and improve skills matching.”