Skills: lifelong learning


Developments in the labour market are creating a mismatch between supply and demand. We want to address this mismatch with various projects that focus on skills. Because skills-based matching is the future. It will help us to increase mobility in the labour market, and improve the quality of the workforce.

Mismatches in the labour market

The labour market is changing rapidly. On the one hand, unexpected social events have a direct impact on the labour market. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic created a greater demand for additional care workers. And the current increases in the price of oil and gas are leading to an additional demand for specialists in the energy transition.

On the other hand, more sustainable technological, economic and demographic developments create growing disparities in the labour market. Employment in certain sectors, such as finance and administration, is stagnating while growing in others (ICT, construction, healthcare and education). This is resulting in mismatches between employees' qualifications and employers' demands.

To innovate towards a forward-looking and shock-resistant labour market, three elements are needed:

  1. Skills
  2. Innovation is all about ‘people and work’
  3. Inclusiveness

This creates a labour market that contributes to people's resilience, prosperity and well-being, and also to the solving of major societal challenges.

Podcast on skills-based labour market

In our 5-part podcast series on the future of the labour market, experts from TNO talk to people in education, business and politics.

The labour market of the future is all about skills

TNO believes that the labour market of the future will be more about skills and less about diplomas. Developing the skills to match people with work, based on their skills, must become a priority.

It’s important to objectify skills in a uniform skills language, so that it’s clear to all which skills are required for jobs in the labour market. Workers and employers will then be able to connect with each other on the basis of recognised skills. This way, we reduce structural mismatches in skills and encourage transitioning between sectors and professions.

What are skills?

According to TNO's Paul Preenen, skills are: 'the knowledge, abilities and attributes which enable individuals to successfully perform their tasks and roles successfully in the workplace under ever-changing conditions. They help people to be innovative in their work. And to remain employable for life.' This definition is therefore broader than the 21st century skills, and also related to work.

How do we prepare people and organisations for the workplace of the future? At TNO, we want to strengthen adaptability so that people and organisations can respond pro-actively to the changing work environment. We look at the impact of technology on work. What applications of technology do we expect in the near future? And how will those align with the skills and needs of employees?

We also contribute to regional partnerships. This ensures a better alignment between education and the labour market. And we encourage mobility between sectors. After all, people no longer work for one organisation their entire lives. We do this, for example, in the Amsterdam metropolitan region through House of Skills.

House of skills: matching turned on its head

House of Skills experiments with skills-based recruitment, skills assessment, education, and skills-based job matching. This is achieved by developing and applying innovative approaches to skills-based development and career guidance. And by setting up a digital platform where employers and employees can connect with each other. At ‘De Werkvloer’ in the Amsterdam Public Library, employees and job seekers can obtain free careers advice. And also information on job and training opportunities.

Some sixty companies now participate in House of Skills. We are House of Skills innovation partners, and coordinate the Matching work package. This involves experimenting with innovative approaches.

“In some sectors there are many redundancies, while in others there is a shortage of staff. Job seekers still don't make a transition to jobs in other sectors often enough. House of Skills has turned the current approach to job matching on its head by focusing on people’s skills rather than on job requirements and diplomas. The result is that job seekers are discovering all types of jobs for which they already possess the necessary skills. Although they often don't not have the required diplomas,” TNO's Joost van Genabeek explains.

The Fitting Room and skills passport

In House of Skills, we have developed ‘The Fitting Room’. Using this digital tool, job seekers can create a personal skills profile and identify which jobs or positions match it. Employers, in turn, can indicate how important certain skills are for the vacancies they have posted. This can lead to surprising combinations.

Meanwhile, many job seekers have been successfully assisted in finding jobs in other sectors. Ultimately, the goal is for job seekers to be able to apply for jobs with a 'skills passport' which will record the validity of their skills (civic value). We also want to roll out House of Skills nationwide. In some regions, such as Groningen, experiments with the House of Skills methods are already under way.

Universal skills language

Together with Statistics Netherlands (CBS), CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis and the Dutch Employee Insurance Agency (UWV), we are working on the development of a uniform skills language, also called skills ontology. This will enable us to define the meaning of skills for work in different sectors.

We want to make skills ontology adaptive to changes in the labour market. To achieve this, we will be analysing existing vacancies with the help of ‘word embedding’ techniques. This will enable us to determine which skills and attributes are required. To assess the quality of the vacancy descriptions, we will train an artificial classifier to generate a so-called ‘vacancy score’. This vacancy score expresses the quality of a vacancy: are the right skills and competencies displayed? The score also indicates the extent to which descriptions discriminate by race, gender, age and background.

This will create a dynamic skills ontology for the Dutch labour market. “The methods we are using for this are innovative. There is currently a great deal of interest in this, both at home and abroad. Through our projects, and in our role of developer, facilitator and expert, we contribute to solving current and future mismatches in the labour market,” according to Van Genabeek.

Sustainable Employability IndeX

The Sustainable Employability Index (DIX) measures the sustainable employability of employees within organisations. Many organisations need an understanding of how things stand with the sustainable employability of their employees. For example, how healthy and motivated are employees? How do their knowledge and skills align with the job? And will employees still align well with their jobs in five years' time? DIX offers a solution to these issues.

DIX is a scientifically validated instrument developed by ourselves. Sustainable employability consultants, often linked to the National Platform Sustainable Employability, use DIX via the digital Johan portal. In doing so, we ensure the substantive quality of DIX. Would you like to know more? Visit the TNO Johan portal, or read the background report.

Vital Workmanship

Vital Workmanship is an action programme that we have developed, and is a proven digitally supported programme to help organisations to get their employees motivated and thinking about their sustainable employability.

Please see the flyer for more information.

Innovation is all about people and work

Innovating without investing in people does not work: technological innovation cannot exist without social innovation. Technology is often seen as a threat to employment and quality of work. But it also offers opportunities for new and high-quality work.

Strengthening the adaptability and absorptive capacity of people and organisations should be the main focus of technological change. A skills-based labour market would facilitate this.

Future-proof employees

Employees must continually develop their skills in the rapidly changing world of work. Adaptability, innovative capacity, resilience and the ability to cope with stress all play a vital role in an individual’s prospects in the labour market. We conduct research into the usability and effectiveness of promising approaches, such as mindfulness, intrapreneurship and ownership in the field of lifelong development.

Ownership of lifelong development

Lifelong development depends on the commitment of employers, employees, education and government. Managers, HR and A&O funds (labour market and training funds) can support employees in playing their part. We therefore work together with various partners on interventions to support employees in assuming ownership. This provides insight into the various possibilities.

Mindfulness at work

These days, being constantly online, carrying out increasingly complex tasks, a high workload and the introduction of new technologies, all combine to make our work extremely challenging. Through mindfulness training, employees can better focus their attention (attention regulation). This allows them to concentrate better on one task, for example. Or to make themselves more able to recognise their body's stress and other signals. Partly because of this, mindfulness improves stress resistance, concentration and the ability to cooperate effectively (through emotion regulation).

We are conducting research into the use of mindfulness interventions in the workplace. What effect does mindfulness have on the productivity and mental health of employees? How can we improve mental training? And how can we encourage mindful behaviour at both team and organisational level?


To capitalise on the opportunities that new technologies offer and to innovate, entrepreneurship is needed, including on the part of employees. Intrapreneurship, or entrepreneurial employees, means that an employee behaves in an (1) innovative and (2) proactive manner and (3) dares to take risks within the organisation.

Intrapreneurship originates on the shop floor and is not imposed from above. For the organisation as a whole, such behaviour helps to improve and renew work processes, products and services. Employees are therefore able to flourish in organisations, become more engaged, and gain relevant skills, knowledge and contacts for later. Therefore, we develop interventions and approaches to boost intrapreneurship and measure the effects of these interventions.

Tasks of the Future

We developed Tasks of the Future to help organisations to prepare and motivate their employees for the work of tomorrow. We do this by showing employees the work of tomorrow, enabling them to take it as a model, and encouraging them to think about the steps they can take to prepare themselves effectively for that work. Or to think about alternatives: perspective for action. Would you like to use this approach and its tooling? Visit

Inclusive labour market

People with a vulnerable labour market position often have great difficulty in finding a sustainable place in the labour market. At the same time, companies are experiencing shortages in certain positions. In a skills-based labour market, we look beyond the usual candidates to solve this issue of shortages.

By focusing on skills, the use of technology and targeted training, more people will find a sustainable place in the labour market. This will contribute to greater diversity and inclusiveness at work.

Working together on a skills-based labour market

To achieve a future-proof labour market requires cooperation and coordinated action from all parties active in the labour market. We therefore call on all parties to join us in taking up this challenge. Would you like to help us shape the transition in the labour market? If so, please contact Ronald Dekker.

Want to read more?

Download the e-brochure ‘Innovations for future-proof work’ (pdf)

Working together towards an inclusive labour market

Read our white paper on how we innovate with skills towards a future-proof, inclusive labour market

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