Maintaining sustainable employability in a digital European industry

By Marianne THYSSEN, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility

The world of work is transforming: digitalisation and technological developments are changing the way we work and live. Some people fear that these phenomena will destroy jobs and put workers in a race against machines. I am not one of them.

I believe digitalisation can be a force for better quality work, unleashing higher productivity and opening up new opportunities to work in different ways. For this to happen, we must set the right framework. We must set the right conditions to enable people, everyone and not just a ‘happy few’, to reap the benefits from the digital era.

One crucial condition is that people have the right skills.

In the near future, nearly all jobs will require some level of digital skills, from the simplest to the most complex.

The demand for digital technology professionals has grown by 4% annually in the last ten years. By contrast, the number of unfilled vacancies for ICT professionals is expected to increase to around 500,000 by 2020. At the same time, 37% of Europeans are digitally illiterate and do not reach even a basic level of ICT skills. And only 20 to 25% of students are taught by digitally confident and supportive teachers.
We need to change this if we want our people and our economy to prosper. Europe needs digitally smart people who are not only able to use but also to innovate and lead in using new technologies.

Last June the European Commission put forward a new “Skills Agenda for Europe”. It sets out 10 actions to make the most of our human capital, which is crucial to keep Europe on a competitive edge and growing. One of its focus areas for example is developing digital skills and helping low-skilled adults acquire a minimum level of digital skills. Another area we focus on is better skills intelligence: understanding skills bottlenecks and anticipating needs, including through stronger business- education partnerships and by analysing ‘big data’ to know what are the skills needed and where and how trends are emerging. Education needs to be more responsive to labour market needs, but to have the tools to be able to adapt based upon trustworthy information, and be empowered to look ahead to the careers of tomorrow.

A concrete example of how we foster partnerships in the digital sphere under the Skills Agenda is the “Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition”. It brings together a wide range of stakeholders – including Member States, companies, and education providers – to take action and tackle the lack of digital skills. It extends beyond the ICT sector across the whole economy. Each Member State is invited to develop a national digital skills strategy and establish a national coalition between education and industry. For example,

in Belgium this coalition has launched the “Digital Champions” action which aims to motivate 20,000 children (including at least 40% girls) to take part in a coding event

. In Ireland the national coalition has kicked off a programme to re-train unemployed people in ICT skills, which has helped 12,500 job seekers into employment.

Moreover, our flagship initiative the “European Pillar of Social Rights” is an important contribution to tackle the challenges of the digital economy. Digitalisation and new technologies bring along new work patterns, which require an update of our social protection systems. That is why the Pillar sets out a number of key principles to address the changing world of work, including that people should have the right skills and access to education, training and lifelong learning throughout their careers. We are now working with the other EU institutions and social partners to make the European Pillar of Social Rights a reality on the ground.

It is crucial that everyone is on board: Member States, which are in charge of education and training, businesses and education providers – they need to work closer together to make sure the skills learned are the skills needed on today’s work floor. Only by joining forces we can make sure that digitalisation is not something we undergo, but that we actively shape and profit from!