Europe rallies together to solve digital skills crisis

There have been several major announcements to develop skills and ensure the IT workforce adds to Europe’s economic value

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It is not even halfway through 2015 and already the technology industry has seen several major announcements to develop skills and ensure the IT workforce adds to Europe’s economic value.

March saw Europe draw up the Riga Declaration, which sets out 10 principles to unlock the potential of e-skills to boost growth and job creation across the continent.

Governments, industry and academia joined forces with the European Commission (EC) to address the digital skills shortage and to build a single market for technology jobs in Europe.

This was not the first time Europe rallied together to try to solve the digital skills crisis, which is believed to be threatening the economy.

In April the EC outlined 16 initiatives it aims to focus on to move towards a single digital market in the European Union (EU).

The announcement of the European Commission’s Digital Single Market strategy was welcomed by techUK, but the technology industry organisation says the strategy must deliver on its promise to create 3.8 million jobs.

The 16 initiatives will be split into three categories, which the EC wants delivered by the end of 2016. These are better access for consumers and businesses to find European digital goods and services, creating a level playing field for digital networks and innovation, and encouraging the growth of the potential digital economy.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said the proposed strategy will create a market “fit for a digital age”. The Commission claims 90% of all jobs in the future will need some kind of digital skill, and a unified single digital economy will create jobs across Europe. 

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Despite techUK welcoming the announcement, it warned the only way to secure 3.8 million new European jobs will be to make it easier for businesses to innovate.

On the announcement of the Digital Single Market strategy Antony Walker, techUK's deputy CEO, said he was in support of several elements. 

“European policymakers have a unique opportunity to secure Europe's future in the fast-moving global digital economy, but the Digital Single Market needs to make it easier for digital businesses to innovate and grow across Europe,” he said.

According to Walker, having different rules in 28 member states has held back the growth of Europe's digital economy.

“The focus on accelerating the digitisation of all sectors of the economy will be essential for driving Europe's productivity,” he added.

Walker said Europe “works best” when it makes life simpler and clearer for both consumers and businesses. 

“Concepts such as the Country of Origin principle mean that small, innovative European businesses know that if their products and practices are compliant in one country, they are compliant everywhere.

“Europe must not back away from these essential harmonising concepts that support growth,” he said.

In 2012, Neelie Kroes, the then commissioner of the EU’s Digital Agenda, warned that because Europe wasn’t providing enough skilled IT labour, there could be as many as 700,000 unfilled ICT vacancies by 2015, which would be damaging for the European economy.

According to Kroes, companies in Germany and elsewhere were finding it hard to recruit qualified IT staff, and when talent was found businesses were having to pay out high salaries.

In 2014, the European Commission urged people to learn to code, warning that a lack of basic coding skills could result in Europe facing a shortage of up to 900,000 ICT professionals by 2020.

At the time, Kroes said coding is the literacy of today and key to enabling the digital revolution.

In February, the Partial review of the Shortage Occupation Lists for the UK and Scotland report by the Migration Advisory Committee recommended that the job titles of product manager, data scientist, senior developer and cyber security specialist be added to the list.

As a result it would be easier for UK employers to recruit international graduates with digital skills, due to a shortage of talent in the country. 

In 2014, the UK was found to be the only EU member state to reach maximum points for levels of policy and stakeholder activity on e-skills.

According to a study by German research company Empirica, which was presented at the European e-Skills Conference, the UK was the only European nation to reach the maximum five points when assessing e-skills national policies and initiatives in the technology skills area.

This was last published in May 2015

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Perhaps I am out of touch with education systems in Europe, but shouldn’t some focus be on digitizing schools to address digital skills gaps? Even if more and more students have personal digital devices, they need training on productivity software and digital literacy to be successful in a technology-driven workplace.  Workforce training is needed for the short term but not sustainable for the long term.
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Education and training are outside the competences of the Commission and apart from the voluntary commitments of major employers via the "Grand Coalition" (the Tech Partnership is the UK end) this is best viewed as "content free gesture politics".
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