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Are Skill Deficits always Bad? Toward a Learning Perspective on Skill Mismatches

Skill Mismatch in Labor Markets

ISBN: 978-1-78714-378-4, eISBN: 978-1-78714-377-7

Publication date: 11 May 2017


The explicit assumption in most literature on educational and skill mismatches is that these mismatches are inherently costly for workers. However, the results in the literature on the effects of underqualification or underskilling on wages and job satisfaction only partly support this hypothesis. Rather than assuming that both skill surpluses and skill deficits are inherently costly for workers, we interpret these mixed findings by taking a learning perspective on skill mismatches. Following the theory of Vygotski on the so-called “zone of proximal development,” we expect that workers who start their job with a small skill deficit, show more skill growth than workers who start in a matching job or workers with a more severe skill deficit. We test this hypothesis using the Cedefop European skills and jobs survey (ESJS) and the results confirm these expectations. Workers learn more from job tasks that are more demanding than if they would work in a job that perfectly matches their initial skill level and this skill growth is largest for those who start with a small skill deficit. The learning opportunities are worst when workers start in a job for which they have a skill surplus. This is reflected in the type of learning activities that workers take up. Workers with a small skill deficit are more often engaged in informal learning activities. Finally, workers who started with a small skill deficit are no less satisfied with their job than workers who started in a well-matched job. We conclude that a skill match is good for workers, but a small skill deficit is even better. This puts some responsibility on employers to keep job tasks and responsibilities at a challenging level for their employees.



van der Velden, R. and Verhaest, D. (2017), "Are Skill Deficits always Bad? Toward a Learning Perspective on Skill Mismatches ", Skill Mismatch in Labor Markets (Research in Labor Economics, Vol. 45), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 305-343.



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