Graduate tracking: an open challenge for Public Employment Services. Innovative proposals from the Netherlands

Graduate Tracking

Young people and the need for reliable information about work

Building a genuinely valuable and effective bridge between education and work is still an open challenge that European countries have been tackling in a variety of ways for some time now: by surveying the main trends in the labour market, skills intelligence based on data on available jobs, surveys on the career paths of school leavers and graduates, and the preparation of forecasts. However, despite this widespread commitment, which is also supported in several respects by the European institutions, the results achieved are not sufficient. The profound and rapid changes in the world of work objectively require a further qualitative leap in the initiatives underway.

A significant contribution in this direction, defined as a “European best practice,” comes from the Netherlands, which aims at the organisation of a system able to provide young people directly with clear and detailed information on the labour market, employment opportunities, and the advancement in their professional career. According to the Dutch Public Employment Service (UWV), the main challenge is collecting valid information and, above all, passing it on to young people who, in general, have little knowledge of the labour market trends they want to enter.

The Dutch ‘Graduate Tracking’ system

The new method successfully tested so far by the Dutch public service, in cooperation with the SEO research institute of the University of Amsterdam, is called ‘Graduate Tracking’ and, in practice, monitors the career path of graduates who have found a job.

To reconstruct this pathway, the UWV measured the employment and professional trends of 218,000 graduates per year and compared them regarding 70 master’s degree courses, 87 bachelor’s degree courses, and 104 VET courses. Specifically, the monitoring was carried out with a focus on two phases: the first relating to employment trends one and a half years after graduation and the second after ten years after graduation, thus detecting the long-term effects of job choices. The system proved to be reliable, even uncomplicated, based simply on four labour market indicators:

  1. Permanent contract
  2. Hourly wage
  3. Annual income
  4. Time it takes to find a job that is considered valid and meets one’s needs.

The overall score of a young person’s position in the labour market results from combining these four elements.

Graduate Tracking, in-depth monitoring of the labour market

The Graduate Tracking approach has allowed an in-depth reading of the labour market. It has highlighted, for example, a considerable difference in the positioning of young people concerning the type of degree and discipline. Young people with a bachelor’s degree show a great difference in their placement in relation to their course of study, starting position, and position after ten years. The situation is different for young people with a Master’s degree, who show a general progressive improvement over the ten years following their first placement. The Dutch public service UWV also classified the position and pathway of young people doing work-based or school-based VET studies. In this case, the monitoring results clearly showed a much better position in the labour market for young people who have carried out work-based experience than for young people who have only done a course of study without work experience. In the first case, the employment rate, the percentage of young people with permanent contracts, wages, and income are higher.

Pros and cons of the graduate tracking system

As it presents and disseminates these data, the Dutch degree tracking system is a helpful tool to provide students with essential information on the labour market and better orient them in their study and work choices. It is a good, timely, and cheap system (it does not need frequent updates). At the same time, it also has some disadvantages and challenges to be solved in the future. For instance, it is a system that does not consider graduates who leave the country or those who continue formal education in the analysis. It is retrospective and non-predictive, needs a proper public register to store data, and uses only basic labour market indicators. It should be noted that, despite its merits, this system is still little used in the European context: a survey by the UWV showed that among the 29 best specialised organisations in Europe, only nine are currently applying this method.

Recommendations from experts and the European Commission

European experts recently presented and evaluated the Dutch public service system at an online seminar on 17 March 2022, sponsored by the European Network on Regional Labour Markets ENRLMM (Germany) and the Eurispes Institute. The keynote speech by Michel van Smoorenburg from the Labour Market Intelligence Department of the Dutch Public Service UWV and the ensuing discussion highlighted the importance of organising an information system that reaches young people and also their families directly, providing easily accessible, easily understood, reliable information. The general situation of uncertainty that hangs over the entire European employment system undoubtedly calls for a determined joint effort in this direction. Too many young people remain unemployed for too long, have no stable job, are paid too low a salary, or have jobs that do not match their skills. Among the experts who intervene, Kinga Szebeni, from the EU Commission’s Directorate-General for Employment and Social Affairs (DG EMPL), referred to a specific “Recommendation on the tracking of graduates” approved by the European Council in 2017, which outlined the essential elements of the monitoring system that the Member States should apply in this area. The document also calls for cooperation between public and private bodies and, above all, for a joint effort to ensure the comparability of data at the European level, which is currently still very patchy. Several pilot projects have been launched to encourage this process, including the Euro Graduate Survey. Finally, it is essential to note that the Commission’s DG EMPL, mapping the application of the “Graduate Tracking” system in the Member States, has discovered that this system is used partially and mainly in the higher education sectors. The application in the VET sector is much more limited, a gap that needs to be filled by urgent initiatives. For the states and the authorities involved in drawing up reconstruction plans, this alert is undoubtedly an absolute priority to be addressed.

*Eurispes, International Dept.

 

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