This briefing analyses human capital and labour market trends in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. The report is based on comparable data, provided by Eurostat and other available international, regional and national sources. The main purpose is to provide overview of the current circumstances across the countries through available evidence and statistics, identifying key challenges and their course over the years. Considering that, besides Greece and Croatia, all countries are aspirants to the European Union (EU), the EU-28 data has been used as referent point in this report.

Labour markets in the selected countries may be characterized by low participation and employment rates. Labour markets share the problem of high unemployment rates, while major concerns are youth unemployment, gender gaps and long-term unemployment.

The unemployment rate in all of the target countries remains high, especially in the Western Balkans. The unemployment rate varies from 32.9% in Kosovo, as an extreme case in which one third of the labour force was unemployed in 2015, to 16.2% in Croatia. Unemployment still remains highest and most concerning in the young population in these countries. Comparing to the EU-28 average, as 20.3% of youth was unemployed in 2015, the data for these countries are particularly worrying. Around half of the youth population was unemployed in 2015 in Bosnia and Herzegovina (62.3%), Kosovo (57.7%), Greece (49.8%) and Macedonia (47.3%). Among selected countries the lowest youth unemployment rate in 2015 was in Montenegro, though still more than a third (37.6%). The position of women position remains challenging, as the percentage of active and employed women is still less than men in activity and employment rates. The lowest economic activity rate for women is in Kosovo less than fifth of women were either in work or available for work in 2015 (18.1%), while the highest in Croatia (62.3%). When it comes to employment rates for women, Kosovo is an extreme case as well, since the employment rate for women was 11.5%. On the other hand, in Croatia it was 51.6% - as the only country in which the employment rate for women is more than 50%.

Historically, there is relatively high income inequality between the EU-28 countries and Western Balkan countries. Considering the available data, GDP per capita varies from the lowest living standard of 30% in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania, to the highest of 68% in Greece.

On a global level, 10.7% of population were living on less than $1.90 a day at 2011 international prices, in 2013. These levels are lower among selected countries, varying from 5% in Macedonia (2015) to 0.1% in Bosnia and Herzegovina (2011). The levels among other countries as well vary - 1.1 % in Albania (2012), 1% in Croatia (2014), 0.8% in Kosovo (2013) and 1% in Montenegro (2013)

How to overcome the challenges? 

This overview of human capital and labour markets among selected countries may itself lead to joint general recommendations.

□ Authorities must show greater efforts to respond to EU 2020 Strategy and reach its targets.

□ There is a need for enhancing the business environment by strategically planning and developing both labour and educational governance. In other words, legislative, policy and institutional action is required. Thus, broader commitment for effective implementation of already undertaken actions is needed. It must be supported by strong political will and adequate resources.

□ Public expenditure on ALMPs need to be increased together with improving public employment services.

□ Authorities need to dedicate to in-depth labour market analysis following with appropriate policy actions and measures. Recent structural changes require better adjusting.

□ Countries need to undertake and foster incentives to attract more people to enter and remain in the labour market. Combatting unemployment requires new measures and programmes. Authorities need to provide equal opportunities for men and women, as well as support in job searching, especially for youth.

□ Stronger efforts are needed for reducing informal employment, through consistent controls and fines, but also new incentives to informal employers.

□ In order to harmonise the connections between labour market and education system, better communication between these sectors is required.

□ Authorities need to devote more resources for human capital development, education and training. In order to strengthen competitiveness, educational systems should be further improved, by increasing public expenditure on education and its quality. This should include modernising educational institutions, comprehensive curriculum reform, introducing new technologies. Programmes for improving lifelong learning and professional development need to take place.

□ Additionally, authorities need to tackle corruption, especially in higher education.

□ Networking and connecting with national and regional business and educational actors need to be further fostered, as this will boost policy learning and economic development of the countries. 

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