Is reskilling and upskilling the real cure for today’s skills shortage?

Digitalization, automation and AI pose a great threat to today’s job market that requires constantly changing skills. However, some of the skills are not missing due to the evolution of technology, but rather due to a loss of attractiveness. This is especially the case for positions with an unusually high number of vacancies or such that remain vacant for a long time.


According to the Swiss Skills Shortage Index, “a skills shortage exists if there are more vacancies than job seekers in an occupation.” Last year, the Adecco Group compared in its Swiss Job Market Index job advertisements with the number of job seekers registered by the Vacancies and Job Market Statistics Information System (AVAM), which yielded the 2019 Swiss Skills Shortage Ranking.

As in previous years, in 2019 engineering occupations such as structural and electronics engineers are most wanted by Swiss employers. They are followed by technical occupations, fiduciary and IT professions. The ranking further indicates that compared to 2016, when the measurement was conducted for the first time, the skills shortage in 2019 is 22% higher across Switzerland. [1]

There are many reasons for the skills shortage. The rapidly changing skills requirements caused by technological innovation are believed to have the most profound impact on the risks of skills mismatch and shortage. Similarly, Hay’s Global Skills Index 2019/20 reported the highest talent mismatch since the index’ launch in 2012 and they, too, believe that technological development is one of the main contributing factors [2].

On the part of businesses, many companies facing the threat of talent shortages, which might damage their commercial success, prepare themselves for new technologies by upskilling their existing workforce, investing in training, encouraging lifelong learning and raising the retirement age.

There is no doubt that continuous upskilling throughout a career will become the new normal, but is this really the key to overcoming skills shortage? If it were, how come that the situation looks as if things are going in the opposite direction?

Another report published by a Swiss online job portal and Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) provides further insight into the Swiss job market. The report compared more than 100,000 job advertisements with the number of clicks on Swiss job portals and, thus, reveals people’s interests in specific jobs in a more direct fashion.

In the German-speaking part of Switzerland, professions in administration, HR, consulting, sales and customer services, marketing, communication, and executive boards received more interest (clicks) than the job advertisements posted. However, jobs in areas like production, telecommunications, construction or nursing received less interest (clicks) compared to the job advertisements posted. [3] This suggests that economic incentives as well as social recognition are becoming increasingly important for people when it comes to choosing a profession.

Last year, there were over 6000 professional care vacancies in Switzerland. This number has doubled compared to five years ago.[4] Reporting on the healthcare workforce supply and demand in Switzerland shows that care workers graduating in the near future will only cover 56% of the demand until 2025.[5]

In the case described above, the problem doesn’t have to do with up-or reskilling. It is rather about the ways in which more people – especially younger ones – can be encouraged to pursue a career in jobs that are considered less attractive. What is even worse, evidence shows that due to bad working conditions (e.g. little income, long working hours, too much stress) a large share of young people has switched their working field either right after their apprenticeship or after a mere few years of professional experience. This includes professions in childcare, hospitality, catering services and handcrafts.

Today everyone is talking about automation, digitalization, AI, upskilling and reskilling. We must remember that there are still many jobs that are unlikely to be automated but essential to our daily lives. And these jobs are losing in popularity. It is important for governments and education systems to take action on increasing awareness and to promote such professions. As written in the OECD Employment Outlook 2019, the “future of work is in our hands and will largely depend on the policy decisions countries make.”

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[1] Spring Professional. 2019. Swiss skills shortage index 2019. URL: [21.01.2020]

[2] Rachel Muller-Heyndyk. 2019. New technology causing skills gaps and stagnant wages. URL : [21.01.2020]

[3] Robert Mayer. 2019. Die meisten Stelleninserate, die geringste Nachfrage. URL : [21.01.2020]

[4] Albert Steck. 2019. Offene Stellen auf Höchststand. URL: [21.01.2020]

[5] Veronica DeVore. 2016. When caring for patients gets competitive. URL : [21.01.2020]