The digital skills deficit

The digital skills deficit
© iStock/gilaxia

Government Europa explores the impact that digital skills education initiatives, including those launched by the European Commission, will have on an emerging digital skills deficit.

In the near future, it is predicted that nine out of ten jobs will require digital skills, including sectors such as farming, energy, education and teaching. Despite this, Europe’s digital skills deficit is widening. The European Commission report that 169m Europeans – between the age of 16 and 74, which accounts for 44% – do not have the basic digital skills they will need.

To try to address this deficit, the European Commission has launched and supported several initiatives over the last few years, including:

  • The Upskilling Pathways Initiative;
  • The Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition;
  • The Digital Opportunity Traineeship Programme; and
  • EU Code Week.

The Digital Opportunity Traineeship Programme will support the training of up to 6,000 students and recent graduates with cross-border traineeships between 2018 and 2020. Government Europa explores the impact that digital skills education initiatives, including the European Commission’s efforts in this area, will have on this emerging digital skills deficit.

Training for technology

Under the traineeship initiative – funded by Horizon 2020 and implemented through the Erasmus+ programme – it is anticipated that students being educated in a range of disciplines will be able to gain practical digital experience in areas of demand in the market. The commission reports than more than 40% of businesses in Europe looking to recruit ICT specialists say that they are facing difficulties in placing suitable employees. In response, the European Commission established the “Digital Opportunity” scheme, as a means of addressing the digital skills deficit.

The first traineeships were announced by Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel at the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition conference in December 2017. The Digital Opportunity traineeship initiative will build trainees’ skills in areas such as cybersecurity, Big Data, quantum technology and machine learning, as well as web design, digital marketing and software development. The first of the traineeships will commence in June 2018, and student interns will receive an estimated €500m for around five months of study.

A coalition for critical action

Bringing together member states, companies, non-profit organisations and education providers, the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition takes critical action on the deficit of digital skills in Europe. The coalition promotes several key skills-orientated initiatives, including the European Digital Skills Awards. The awards celebrate projects which develop the digital competence levels of Europeans for the purpose of work, education, and life more generally.

In 2013, the European Commission adopted the Agenda on ‘Communication on Opening Up Education’ which seeks to seize the opportunities provided by the digital revolution and implement these through education and training. The commission adopted the agenda in order to ensure that technology is being used in education as a means of showcasing learning – providing curiosity, stimulation and enjoyment. The agenda seeks to:

  • Increase the effectiveness of education through open education resources and massive open online courses, which seek to facilitate easier and more efficient public procurement, shared practices and opportunities to innovative;
  • Increase equity by ensuring that knowledge is widely accessible to all, whilst individuals can get access to new learning opportunities through lowered costs and ease of access to digital services; and
  • Produce positive impacts in the economy through a stronger, more structured uptake of ICT, as well as upskilling the workforce and supporting industry to manage disruptive change through increased market opportunities – fostering partnerships for infrastructure, products and services.

More generally, the agenda seeks to increase the attractiveness of European education by boosting skills in the 21st century as well as improving lives.

A drive for digital skills

At the 2018 Masters of Digital conference, held in Brussels, Belgium, the Director of Public Policy for Google, Marco Pancini, responded to the commission’s estimates on the long-term view on the digital skills required in the future. “Two years ago we made a pledge to provide digital skills training for one million Europeans, and actually, we are very happy that since then we have trained six million Europeans. It’s just the beginning of this effort, we should all do more […] We want to play our role.”

In 2015, in line with the commission’s view to encourage lifelong learning, Google rolled out the Google Digital Garage platform online, as well as in standalone pop-up stores in Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield, UK. It offers free courses which range from developing social media marketing strategies to building CVs and staying safe online. These courses are accessible for anyone, from students to businesses. The Digital Garage initiative was just one of Google’s efforts to deliver on their commitment to equip one million European citizens with digital skills by 2016.

As reported in the Daily Express, Google’s Managing Director for the UK and Ireland, Eileen Naughton, said: “While the majority of UK small businesses recognise the importance of having a website and using basic digital tools, less than 30% of SMEs have an effective online presence. We want to help jump start the other 70%.”

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