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ESCO – European Skills, Competences and Occupations taxonomy as an initiative of the European Commission (part 1)

Plans for building the European labour market or the related European Lifelong Learning Area , presented in the European Union, are very ambitious. There is a change (on a world scale) from the contribution to the learning process (learning input) to its results (learning outcomes) visible in the systems of education and training programmes. One should mention, the research conducted within the Programme for International Student Assessment - PISA ) or establishment of the National Qualifications Framework (referring to the European Qualifications Framework).

Simultaneously, the transformations are occurring on the labour market[1]. So far, one has followed mainly the occupational standards (created independently or based on ISCO[2]) in the process of matching the right opportunity to the candidate’s profile. At present, Public Employment Services or Human Resources (HR) departments in the companies change their approach, more and more often, paying greater significance to job seekers’ competences and skills (also the general ones like e.g. learning skills or abilities to take initiative)[3]. These are used to create occupational profiles, which are helpful in building candidate’s curriculum vitae or preparing job offers (however, in case of the last ones, the differences between skills and competences are not emphasized strongly enough).

According to the arrangements of the European Commission, in particular the Directorate General Education and Culture as well as the Directorate General Employment, Social Affaires and Equal Opportunities, ESCO is supposed to be a multilingual taxonomy to assign specific skills and competences to the specific occupations.

In order to create the European labour market, as well as the common lifelong learning area in the future, it is required that the abilities and qualifications gained by individuals should be understandable and easy to be compared between the countries, and promote mobility amongst employees (cf. table 1).

Table 1. Goals determined in the process of creating the European labour market


Goal-achievement methods

Well-considered investment in the skills development

  • creating appropriate incentives so that both employers and employees felt the inner need to improve their qualifications.

Connection between education and labour

  • promoting flexible education paths.
  • aiming at developing more effective relations between all entities on the labour market.

Development of necessary competences

  • competences acquired in the process of the widely understood education should be propped by necessary transversal competences - mainly within the entrepreneurship and knowledge of computer programs.

Predicting the competence which will be related to so-called ‘tomorrow's profession’

  • improving the communication tools used on the labour market.
  • creating appropriate ‘early warning’ systems to inform about potential problems.
  • opening labour markets for the influx of international, skilled labour.

Source: own study based on: New Skills for New Jobs: Action Now. A Report by the Expert Group on New Skills for New Jobs prepared by the European Commission, European Commission, February 2010, p. 5.

At present, in the European but also world educational systems we may observe a change of the paradigm of education giving priority to results of the learning process defined in the categories of knowledge, skills and competences − KSC. Furthermore, on the labour market, greater and greater role is played by the competence-oriented approach of the future employees. The ESCO project can be a significant step forward enabling to create a common language of competence, both in the field of education, as well as employment.

In the area of education and training programmes, the terminology based on knowledge, skills and competences is applied in different fields – e.g. working out programmes of education, describing qualifications gained or making assessments. Whereas referring to the labour market, the terminology is used mainly when creating databases of the available placements or occupational standards. The approach oriented to learning results best responds to the needs reported by people (still) studying, as well as employers, when all the interested parties actively participate not only in the process of achieving defined results, but also their recognizing later on.

For that reason, ESCO can also be used as a platform to support development of:

  • the already existing instruments to determine the effects of learning on the level of an individual (e.g. Europass[4] documents), European Credit Transfer System − ECTS, European Credit System for Vocational Education and Training – ECVET;
  • the European Qualifications Framework and their national equivalents, at the same time, contributing to the process of improving the comparability of acquired qualifications both within the institution, as well as the whole system.

Similar relations – both between individuals, as well as in the system – exist also on the labour market, where the key determinant of success is a competent diagnosis of what knowledge, skills and competences a given person applying for a specific job has. Nevertheless, such approach requires an overall view referring to the already defined professional standards or descriptions of particular professions (cf. picture 1).

Diagram 1. ESCO context and dimension.


Source: The Role of the European Taxonomy of Skills, Competencies and Occupations (ESCO) in Lifelong Learning Policies, European Commission, Education and Culture, Lifelong Learning: Education and Training Policies, Brussels 2010, p. 3.

The analysis of the above picture indicates that ESCO can be an instrument contributing to eliminate differences and build connections between the world of education and the labour market. This is a long-term challenge the results of which will be noticed in the near future – due to a quite complex character of its particular elements[5]. Moreover the success of ESCO depends equally on the involvement of all interested parties and concentration on the approach oriented on the effects of learning. Using the competences gained in the learning process by the individuals competently, in combination with the acquired professional qualifications, is one of determinants of success on the labour market.


ESCO – European Skills, Competences and Occupations taxonomy
as an initiative of the European Commission (part 2)

European Skills, Competences and Occupations taxonomy (ESCO) has a chance to eliminate the terminological gap in the information flow between the world of education and training programmes and the labour market. The fact that ESCO will become a tool offering the multilingual terminology will cause, among others, an increase in the occupation descriptions transparency and comparability between the countries. This will constitute a helpful instrument used by learning and working people in the European territory[6]. ESCO can also play the substantial role in statistical, providing the information exchange between the educational, labour market institutions or entrepreneurs. The ESCO value added is presented in table 2.

Table 2. Value added of the European Skills, Competences and Occupations taxonomy

ESCO may help to:

  • complete the Europass documents such as: diploma supplements, Europass – Mobility;

  • create concise descriptions of national qualifications (including their equivalents in foreign languages), which can be included in the national qualification registers;

  • facilitate the functioning of the network portals (e.g. Ploteus[7]);

  • create and broaden the descriptions of courses, educational programmes;

  • facilitate moving from the world of education to the labour market;

  • compare competence and qualifications possessed (in the course of the formal, informal and non-formal learning);

  • measure the progress occurring as a result of the learning process and assess the results of the training programmes undergone;

  • conduct the analysis of the necessary abilities, and forecast – based on the collected data − abilities essential to live actively in the future;

  • improving services associated with career advisory and building career plan.

Source: own study based on The Role of the European Taxonomy of Skills, Competencies and Occupations (ESCO) in Lifelong Learning Policies, European Commission, Education and Culture, Lifelong Learning: Education and Training Policies, Brussels 2010, p. 5–7.

The Europass documents, e.g. the diploma supplement certifying professional qualifications[8], include the part titled: ‘Profile of skills and competences’. In the diploma supplement, we can find the part devoted to qualifications and possible professional certificates. The idea of the ESCO authors was to work out a common terminology which could be used to describe the learning results, and by that to increase their comparability. The dictionary which includes a multilingual nomenclature in this respect, certainly would turn out to be handy for clerks, serving as a specific practical guide.

The diploma supplements certifying professional qualifications are not issued for every qualification. Comparatively consistent and clearly defined descriptions of qualifications − which is guaranteed by ESCO − may considerably facilitate their comparison in various countries and provide their use in the national qualification registers.

ESCO can enhance the possibilities of finding information on the already existing portals (Ploteus or ERK). The last one will enable to search based on keywords such as: skills or occupations[9].

Preparing school curricula or courses and teaching modules descriptions is one of many tasks, the academic and teaching staff have to face. Quite often, they do not have the instruments to follow. Hence, the ESCO taxonomy would undoubtedly be of help in this respect, as well as could facilitate e.g. ‘labelling’ the online courses. There is another issue related to the above. Describing programmes or courses by the learning results would define, what knowledge, skills and competences a given graduate has. That would facilitate their job search by adjusting to the appropriate professional profiles. Thanks to the constant refinement of the skills, individuals can:

  • easily enter the labour market (e.g. on the education completion or after the period of unemployment);
  • stay longer on the labour market;
  • still develop towards searching for new job opportunities.

Currently, a person creating their curriculum vitae specifies their competence themselves. The fact that the authors of the European CV standard, Europass CV – providing with the most important information about the professional experience or level of education – have devoted a lot of space to skills and competences acquired (e.g. language, social, organizational or technical), indicates how valuable the competences are. The last ones not necessarily have to be proved by certificates. In this accepted form Europass serves as a ‘curriculum vitae of achievements’.

ESCO can clearly support the process of certifying skills and competences gained in the course of the informal and non-formal learning, among others by making them more visible. Employers, recruiting their future employees, usually focus on the analysis of the information certifying their qualifications (such as e.g. professional title, type of completed studies etc.), sometimes omitting the other circumstances having affect on the individual’s development, and acquired in the course of lifelong learning.

ESCO can also serve as a tool supporting the process of learning results assessment. The accepted uniform terminology certainly will streamline the statistical data collection and appropriate comparative analyses. Next, this may facilitate the process of forecasting the future ‘demand’ for certain skills or competences. Thanks to that, the offers of the educational institution will be better adjusted to the requirements of the labour market. ESCO can boost the internationalization process in this respect. Nowadays, in order to make comparisons between the particular countries, there are ISCED and ISCO classifications applied. However, they do not refer to the level of skills and competences, as assumed by the ESCO authors.

ESCO – created as a common taxonomy of skills, competences and occupation − is to be an instrument to let the EU Member States complete the set goals within the employment and education policy. Certainly, it will let us understand the needs of the current labour markets. In consequence, ESCO can enable better selection of the educational offers for future students and facilitate the process of searching for interesting job opportunities.


dr Anna Marszałek

[1] Cf. The Role of the European Taxonomy of Skills…, op. cit., p. 2.

[2] International Standard Classification of Occupations − classification of occupations and specialties for the labour market.

[3] So far they were used mainly in the career advisory.

[4] These include: Europass CV, Europass – Language Passport,, Europass – Diploma Supplement, Europass – Diploma Supplement certifying professional qualifications and Europass – Mobility. Cf. Europass stwarza możliwości nauki i pracy w Europie,, [19.10.2011].

[5] The necessity to create mutual connections between the Word of education and the requirements of the labour market was approved on 13 May 2010 in the document: Europe 2020. A European Strategy for Smart Sustainable and Inclusive Growth.

[6] Cf. The Role of the European Taxonomy of Skills, Competencies and Occupations (ESCO) in Lifelong Learning Policies, European Commission, Education and Culture, Lifelong Learning: Education and Training Policies, Brussels 2010, p. 5.

[7] Ploteus is the website aiming at supporting students, people searching for job, employees, parents, Carter advisors, as well as teachers in finding information about the possibilities of education in Europe. Cf. Ploteus,, [21.10.2011].

[8] The dokument is a supplement of the information included in the professional diploma. Cf. Europass – Suplement do Dyplomu Potwierdzającego Kwalifikacje Zawodowe,, [22.10.2011].