Project background

Traditionally, it was assumed that labour market participants stayed in the same occupation from the time they entered the workforce until they retired. However, in recent years the prevalence of people changing to a second occupation — whether out of desire or necessity — has increased. Coupled with dynamic changes in the labour market, an increasing number of labour market participants are confronted with the challenge of successfully mastering a change in occupation while still employed in their current occupation.

Defining occupational change

As there does not exist, however, a standardised and/or commonly applied definition of “occupational mobility/change,” a working definition has been developed for this study. An occupational change is characterised by a change into a new field of professional activity. This includes a substantial alteration of the work contents related to the job before and after the occupational change. In the context of an occupational change, significantly different core competences are necessary to undertake the tasks associated with the new occupation. This definition also implies that occupational change may be conducted with or without geographic mobility as well as within the same company or in conjunction with a new employer.

Research on occupational mobility

Research has indicated that occupational mobility generally requires some form of re-skilling and re-qualification. German data, for example, indicate that about one-fifth to one-third of the workforce experiences occupational change, and half of these could not use their existing competences in their new occupation. Similar findings were made in Austria and Italy. This raises the question whether the vocational education training (VET)/adult education system meets the requirements of people wishing to change occupations, particularly those already in employment who, as a consequence, have limited time resources to engage in re-training.

The GATOM project

Against this background, the GATOM [Gearing Adult Education Towards Occupational Mobility] project, funded by the EU Lifelong Learning Programme and covering eight European countries (Austria, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Romania, Spain and Switzerland), sought to contrast the available adult education/VET training provision with the requirements of employees regarding re-skilling/re-qualification support measures in the context of an occupational change, and their potential employers.