According to projections by the European Commission, by 2020 there will be at least 825,000 open vacancies in the ICT sector in Europe due to a lack of skilled employees. The digitalisation of the economy reduces transaction costs and makes it possible for companies and customers to take full advantage of the European Single Market and the upcoming European Digital Single Market. Completing the Digital Single Market is expected to increase the EU’s GDP by 4% by 2020, which is equivalent to about 500 billion euros. However, if the alarming skills gap is not addressed, we will not be in a position to take advantage of digitalisation as societies and economies. Young people suffer from really high levels of unemployment, which bears a really high economic and social cost. We need to do everything possible to bring down unemployment. Closing the e-skills gap is one of the big opportunities that has the potential to offer employment opportunities to hundreds of thousands if not millions of young people in the future. Developments in the field of ICT and networks, including cloud computing, big data, social media, the “Internet of Things” and the mobile internet, create demand for e-skilled employees and opportunities for those who will acquire e-skills. Therefore, addressing the skills gap with a wide spectrum of actions is of utmost social and economic importance because our long-term competitiveness relies on taking advantage of digitalisation and on acquiring the new required skills.
The current state of e-skills in Europe is worrying. We need to address challenges at all of the three e-skills levels defined by INSEAD Business School. There are challenges regarding the basic level including literacy, basic e-skills, maths and science. The same is unfortunately true regarding occupational level and occupational skills required for the job market acquired both in formal education and ‘on the job’. Additionally, we also face challenges in the most advanced level defined as ‘Global Knowledge Economy Talents’. The highest skills level deals with advanced skills such as leading teams utilising digital technologies and anticipating changes that are crucial for innovation using digital skills and technologies. Therefore, we have to consider boosting e-skills in a holistic fashion, and it is nearly impossible to consider the challenge ahead of us according to the traditional division between ministries in Member States or between DGs in the EU. Below we identify the key topics that require immediate action and proposals to address the identified challenges.
It is paramount that we understand that there are a number of different levels of digital skills that are needed. There are e-skills that are needed for scaling up businesses, and to learn and master those skills one does not necessarily need formal education. There are skills that are needed to use digital services and to benefit from e-commerce. Private companies are best placed to offer these skills, and therefore, a lot more emphasis has to be put on the existing Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs. Companies have to actively and decisively participate in addressing the skills gap by providing trainings and it is also in their interest to do so. The European People’s Party:
Public bodies have to recognise that grassroots movements, which aim to get children, youngsters and especially women interested in e-skills and in joining the ICT-sector, have an important role to play. Women are underrepresented in the ICT-sector, and the current European Commission should build on the good work of the previous Commission to encourage women to join the sector. High youth unemployment rates are a grave social and economic problem. We have to prioritise providing unemployed young people with new skills, and the focus should be on e-skills, bearing in mind the projected employment opportunities in that sector. The European People’s Party:
The youth guarantee should be used to address the skills mismatch, especially since MOOCs exist in a variety of different levels. The primary aim of the youth guarantee should be to offer skills that can lead to employment, and since the highest job growth is projected in sectors and jobs that require e-skills, these skills should be given top priority within the youth guarantee.
Digitalisation is comparable to the Industrial Revolution in how it will change society and the economy. We are only in the beginning of that process, but it is of key importance that e-skills are integrated into primary education in order to foster an understanding of the digital world and the logic through which it functions. E-skills are part of education policy but should also be considered as an integral part of long-term employment and competitiveness policies. The European People’s Party:
It is important to increase the number of students enrolled in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects in universities. We need to have the best talents in Europe to secure new innovations and cutting-edge technology companies. Only by having the best talent can we have the most competitive and innovative economy on a global scale. The European People’s Party:
Due to the fast digitalisation of all industries and governments, it is expected that 90% of jobs will require some sort of ICT skills. In a knowledge-based economy it is of the utmost importance to provide the citizens the right set of skills and digital education to fill in the gap between the supply and demand of labour, but also in order to strengthen social cohesion and active citizenship. Now is the time to train and educate the digitally skilled workers, digitally aware consumers, and digitally savvy citizens of tomorrow, not forgetting elderly people who should be helped in going online in order to tackle wider social issues and close equality gaps. The European People’s Party:
“Technology is a tool, not a learning outcome.”