Six Skills Help You Stand Out in A Hypercompetitive Labour Market

“Anxious.” “Lost.” “Everything’s a struggle.” are some examples of the ways most recent university grads described their experience transitioning from school to the professional world. Why so? Because most of the grads need to undergo a “change-of-state” from being a student to being a short-termed (sometimes long-term) unemployed. This article is written for students who are struggling to enhance their competiveness in the labour market in order to get employed.

Authors: Phuong Nguyen and Marja Viljanen

Skills Challenge in Europe and Finland

Compared to other groups, the stagnation in the European markets hit the young more severely. For instance, the rate of youth unemployment in Finland reached 17.2% in December 2018, trebling the general unemployment rate (Statista 2018).

Skill mismatch is one of the key reasons to this dilemma. While many employers face difficulties in recruiting staff, unemployment levels remain relatively high. According to Cedefop European Skills and Jobs Survey, 39% of European employers have difficulty finding people with desirable skills. And more than half of 12 million long-termed unemployed are considered low-skilled. (Skills Panorama 2016.)

EmploySkills Project+

On recognizing the problem and aiming to solve it, Erasmus+ project, entitled “Strengthening students’ employability through enhanced skills formation (abbr. EmploySkills)” was formed. The expected outcome of the project is to develop curricula relevant to the labour market and societal needs.

The project consists of five intellectual outputs in total. Findings presented in this article are a part of the first output O1, which acts as a foundation for the next steps. Lahti University of Applied Sciences is one of the core partners in the project.

Theoretical Study of Transversal Skills

According to UNESCO IBE 2018, transversal skills are “skills related to a particular job, task, academic discipline or area of knowledge and that can be used in a wide variety of situations and work settings” (UNEVOC 2018). Some popular transversal skills are communication, collaboration, creative thinking or leadership. Nowadays, the term “transferable skills”, which has the same meaning as “transversal skills”, has been used more commonly (European Training Thesaurus 2018, as cited in ELGPN 2018).

The importance of transversal skills is indisputable. ”Transversal knowledge, skills and competencies are the building blocks for the development of the ”hard” skills and competencies required to succeed on the labour market.” (ESCOpedia 2018). As transversal skills are relevant to a broad range of occupations and sectors, they can be seen as the cornerstone for the personal development of a person (ESCOpedia 2018).

According to Nedelkoska and Quintini 2018 (as cited in Hogarth 2018), about 14% of jobs in 32 OECD countries which participated in PIAAC were highly automatable (i.e., with a probability of automation of over 70%). The only bottlenecks to automation are, however, social intelligence, cognitive intelligence, perception and manipulation that only human possess (Hogarth 2018). Therefore, transversal skills are of pivotal importance.

Research Methodology

The whole structure of the research is illustrated in Figure 1. The research adopts a deductive approach and applies the mixed-research method so as to better evaluate and understand the problem. In this case, qualitative method is used to provide an overview of the main issues while quantitative method collects descriptive data and bring an insight into the issue.

FIGURE 1. Research Structure (Nguyen 2019)

Key Findings

As a result, 20 transversal skills are divided into four groups in the order of significance for the working life (see Table 1). Amongst, type-1 comprises highly required skills at the first stage of a recruitment process, whilst type-2 includes skills that are necessary and critical for work process and career ladder. (Nguyen 2019.)

TABLE 1. Category of Transversal Skills (Nguyen 2019)

It is also worth noting that social skill is one of five most critical transversal skills, while collaboration skill is considered as the most important transversal skill by the majority of the interviewees. (Nguyen 2019.)

On the other hand, the research showed that the majority of graduate students lack these transversal skills: technology literacy, leadership, creativity, self-initiative, social skills, critical thinking and media literacy. Amongst, grads are most dissatisfied with the extent to which technology literacy and leadership skill are taught at higher education institutions (i.e. 29% and 27% respectively). (Nguyen 2019.)

Comparing opinions from both sides, it is concluded that many grads lack critical transversal skills because they misunderstood the expectation from employers. Now that we have understood the opinions from the employer side, we suggest students put more effort on the following six transversal skills in order to improve their employability: technology literacy, social skill, collaboration, self-initiative, creativity and critical thinking (Nguyen 2019.)

Although transversal skills are interpersonal and hard to teach, it is not impossible to acquire and develop a new transversal skill. As an outcome of the research, a practical guideline (see Figure 2) was created with a view to assisting students in developing their competencies in the six transversal skills.

FIGURE 2. Guidelines on the Improvement of Transversal Skills

Role of Higher Education Institutions

At the end of the focus group interview, the interviewees recommend schools should have their students take Personality Test. In addition, it is imperative that higher education institutions facilitate students to take more practical trainings that are in accordance with their career goals and integrate proactively transversal skills into the curriculum. Courses about self-management, leadership and technology seem to be in need for the matter.

Last word

Although the concept “transversal skills” is quite new, the significance of them in our life is undeniable. This research was conducted in Finland; accordingly, the result is more likely applicable to the Finnish labour market. However, future researchers can use this as a reference for the similar topic. More importantly, this research showed positive correlations between transversal skills. Therefore, it is highly recommended that future researchers do other in-depth research on the correlations between transversal skills.


ELGPN 2018. Transversal skills. [cited 6 Apr 2019]. Available at:

ESCOpedia 2018. Skill reusability level. [cited 25 Feb 2018]. Available at:

Hogarth, T. 2018. Economy, employment and skills: European, regional and global perspectives in an age of uncertainty. Fondazione Giacomo Brodolini. [cited 25 Feb 2018]. Available at:

Molinsky, A. & Pisman, S. 2019. The biggest hurdles recent graduates face entering the workforce. [cited 27 Apr 2019]. Available at:

Nguyen, P. 2019. Enhancing the employability of graduate students with transversal skills. Bachelor’s thesis. Lahti University of Applied Sciences, Business Administration. Lahti. [cited 27 Apr 2019]. Available at:

Skills Panorama 2016. Skills challenges in Europe. [cited 27 Apr 2019]. Available at:

Statista 2018. Youth unemployment rate in Europe (EU member states) as of December 2018 (seasonally adjusted). [cited 18 Feb 2018]. Available at:

UNEVOC 2018. Transversal skills. [cited 25 Feb 2018]. Available at:


Phuong Nguyen has studied Business and Administration at Faculty of Business and Hospitality Management at Lahti University of Applied Sciences and has graduated and received a BBA degree in May 2019.

Marja Viljanen works as a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Business and Hospitality Management, Lahti University of Applied Sciences.

Illustration: (CC0)

Published: 13.5.2019

Reference to this publication

Nguyen, P. & Viljanen, M. 2019. Six Skills Help You Stand Out in A Hypercompetitive Labour Market. LAMK Pro. [Cited and date of citation]. Available at:


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