Diversity Europe

European Employers Overcoming Labor Shortages Through Inclusion Initiatives for Immigrants

Addressing the gap between business labor needs and Europe’s immigration, migrant, and refugee policies requires a twofold strategy. Employers can work with government entities to close the gap, but they should also pursue proactive inclusion strategies that develop the competencies of people who could fill skills gaps. - BY ANNA GONSALVES


For companies operating in Europe, navigating the complex world of European immigration laws can be daunting for employers needing workers. That is why it is essential to bridge the gap between European immigration laws and business labor needs. This can be achieved by developing strategies that focus on accessing and integrating available people who need skills upgrading or language improvement, or who are excluded from the labor market due to social biases. The labor market imbalances are widespread and severe, according to the European Labour Authority, which analyzed labor imbalances in the EU27, Switzerland, and Norway in the second and third quarters of 2022. Europe’s immigration laws and policy frameworks concerning immigration, migration, and integration significantly influence the labor market. The gap between the kind of labor businesses needs and the available skills can only be significantly narrowed by business and government collaboration on institutional and governmental policies and proactive employer initiatives for workforce integration and skills development.


When a major labor market imbalance exists, both businesses and society in general suffer the consequences. Employers cannot meet labor needs and have difficulty growing their businesses due to the skills shortage. The European governments must increase resources invested in things such as workforce training and unemployment, and also balance labor force policies with immigration and migration policies, all of which impact businesses.

Researchers trying to pinpoint the immigrant-native gaps in European labor markets looked at the role of institutions. The gaps, they found, are not only due to differences in socio-economic and demographic characteristics, but also to institutions and policies on immigrants and natives. Different integration policies are needed, say the researchers, and it can get complex. For example, they found that policies directed at “reducing the differences in the characteristics of immigrant and native populations differ from aiming to close the gaps between natives and immigrants who share common characteristics.” Education and immigration policies are key factors impacting human capital gaps between the two groups, but “anti-discrimination and equal treatment policies are primary tools for addressing the discrimination that engenders gaps in labor market outcomes.”

The Eures Report on labour shortages and surpluses 2022 examined Europe’s labor market to identify the labor market imbalances in relation to vulnerable groups. There are 400 different occupations that at least one country identified as a shortage. The severe or high occupational shortages were nursing professionals, health care assistants, systems analysts, waiters, bus drivers, heavy truck drivers, applications programmers, software developers, heavy equipment operators, cleaners, cooks, food preparers, and most construction and maintenance occupations like bricklayers, carpenters, concrete workers, mechanics, electricians, and so on. Most shortages were in the healthcare, professional, technology, crafts, and hospitality sectors. The occupations with the most widespread shortage lists are STEM related. Some labor shortage issues include students not learning the skills and knowledge employers need, and/or biases toward people with particular characteristics like being female or older. People with low levels of skills are most vulnerable to unemployment. Female workers are significantly underrepresented in the shortage occupations.

The researcher identified the factors influencing the demand for and supply of labor. Demand factors included technological change, transition to a climate-neutral economy, terms and conditions of employment, employer requirements like needing part-time workers, and macroeconomic conditions. The supply factors include population aging, labor market participation, participation levels in training and education, people’s work preferences (i.e., days and hours willing to work), migration and mobility, and labor market policies. Employees have recruitment difficulties due to skills shortages, employment terms compared to other employers, challenges in anticipating skills needs for the long-term, job locations, communication of job vacancies, and the degree of engagement with local education and training institutions.


There are numerous steps employers can take to close labor skills gaps, reduce unemployment, and bridge the gap between immigration and integration laws and business needs. There is a largely untapped labor market of vulnerable people who could thrive as workers through well-designed government and business strategies. One strategy is to promote collaboration between businesses and policymakers. By working together, companies and immigration officials can better understand each other's needs and concerns. This can lead to more effective policies that benefit both parties. However, this is not a strategy that will rapidly produce results.

A practical approach for employers is joining the European Dialogue on Skills and Migration initiative. This initiative gives employers a forum to describe their strategies for integrating refugees and migrants into their workforce. Companies supporting the initiative are recognizable names such as Cisco, SAP, and The ADECCO Group. By sharing their integration strategies, all employers can learn from each other, and policymakers can learn from employers. Companies offering apprenticeships can join the European Alliance for Apprenticeship.

Companies' specific actions to meet labor requirements while contributing to integrating migrants and refugees vary depending on specific needs. One strategy is the targeted reskilling of young workers employed in low-paying, low-level jobs so they can move into higher-paying jobs. However, employers still need to embrace the under-utilized labor force to fill positions in the future. The native-born population in many countries is rapidly aging, so attracting younger workers will require recruiting and developing eligible workers in the non-native groups of people, many of whom are diverse and vulnerable.

Employers have developed internship programs, offered language training and bridging programs combined with apprenticeship programs, provided vocational training, developed mentorship programs, developed online staffing platforms for refugees, offered online IT skills assessment tools, and adapted recruitment criteria to focus on non-traditional factors like cultural adaptation, desire to work, and competence. These are just a few ways companies reach out to immigrants, migrants and refugees to fill all levels of jobs, from low-skill hospitality to high-skill technology workers.

Most companies also collaborate with governmental and nonprofit groups, because government and social policies are as important as specific employer actions. The ADECCO Group said it works ”closely with Governments; institutional stakeholders, such as the UNHCR, the EU Commission, the OECD, the ILO, the IOM and the World Employment Confederation, as well platforms such as the GFMD Business Mechanism, and the planned UN Global Compact on Migration to provide our view and share our expertise.” Cisco created “social groups to support the individual learning process through partnerships with local initiatives, NGOs and adult education institutions.”


Ultimately, it's important to recognize the valuable contributions that immigrants, migrants, and refugees can make to the economy and society. By bridging the gap between European immigration laws and the needs of businesses, a more welcoming and inclusive environment for all individuals is created. Employers are encouraged to be proactive in developing the bridge actions, by reaching out externally and developing support initiatives internally for people who can become productive contributors to European societies and economies. By tackling the barriers to employment and workplace biases, employers benefit by developing inclusive programs that enable them to overcome labor shortages.