Which Skills Matter for Jobs in Bulgaria?

January 21, 2016

  • In general, three types of skills are sought by employers: cognitive, socioemotional, and technical.
  • In Bulgaria, higher socioemotional and cognitive skills matter most when it comes to getting a job.
  • For employees with the same level of education, having better cognitive and socioemotional skills pay-off in terms of higher earnings.

Employers value three types of skills, two of which are foundational: cognitive skills, such as functional literacy and numeracy, and socioemotional skills, such as self-discipline, perseverance, and the ability to work well with others.

But how are these different skills distributed among the working age population in Bulgaria? And what is the relationship between labor market outcomes and skills?

These particular questions are addressed in a new World Bank report, Skills for Work in Bulgaria: The Relationship between Cognitive and Socioemotional Skills and Labor Market Outcomes – a study based on data from the Bulgarian Longitudinal Inclusive Society Survey (BLISS) that was collected by the World Bank and the Open Society Institute–Sofia in the spring of 2013.

The third important set of skills – known as technical skills (professional skills or vocational abilities) – includes abilities associated with specific knowledge to carry out a particular occupation. While technical skills are acquired later in life – during secondary school or beyond – the most important period during which most cognitive and several socioemotional skills take shape is during early childhood, particularly the first 1,000 days of life, setting the stage for later accumulation of technical skills.

The report draws a skills profile of working-age Bulgarians, demonstrating that higher-educated people have better cognitive and socioemotional skills. Men and women score similarly on cognitive skills, but women have higher relational skills. And while cognitive skills seem to be lower for older individuals (50-65 years), this group compensated by having higher relational skills compared to their younger compatriots.

For men in Bulgaria’s labor market, cognitive and socioemotional skills matter most for having a job, even if their formal education has already been taken into account. For women, on the other hand, diplomas are much more important.

Data shows that for people with the same education, better cognitive and socioemotional skills pay-off in terms of higher earnings.

Victoria Levin, World Bank economist and one of the main authors of the report, points out that, “Employers in Bulgaria value cognitive and socio-emotional skills, such as the individual’s attitude towards work and willingness to learn new things. Helping people achieve this skills mix will be very important for Bulgaria’s future, especially given the demographic trends in the coming decades.”

Levin adds that, “A comprehensive skills development policy of lifelong learning for all, combined with targeted interventions for the disadvantaged, would facilitate better labor market outcomes and a more inclusive and sustainable growth path.”

The World Bank and the Open Society Institute–Sofia have made the original data from the survey available to the wider public. It has also been used for a technical workshop on working with microdata, the purpose of which was to encourage and empower academia, policy makers, think tanks and civil society in Bulgaria to access and use this rich data set for their own research.