Commission in bid to ensure ‘70% of EU adults’ have digital skills

European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas (L) and EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit (R) attend a joint news conference with Vice-President Dombrovskis on the Youth Employment Support package and the European Skills Agenda at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 01 July 2020. [EPA-EFE/FRANCOIS LENOIR]

The European Commission has laid out ambitious new goals for upskilling and reskilling the bloc by 2025, including the objective of ensuring that 70% of the EU adult population has basic digital skills.

The announcement follows the recent publication of the Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index, which found that a large part of the EU population “lacks basic digital skills, even though most jobs require such skills.”

The benchmark is part of the Commission’s revised European Skills Agenda published on Wednesday (7 July), along with the Youth Employment Support Package. The 70% target is a 24% markup from 2019 figures.

Skills Agenda

The skills agenda introduces twelve actions that the Commission hopes to coordinate with member states, industry groups, and social partners to ‘place skills at the heart of the EU policy agenda,’ as a means of charting recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Generally, such actions include fostering skills to support the green and digital transitions, increasing graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, and introducing a new Europass platform.

Speaking on the publication of the Skills agenda on Wednesday, Commission Vice-President for Promoting the European Way of Life Margaritis Schinas said that the objectives are necessary to ensure Europe’s resilience for the future.

“Europe needs a skills revolution, but one that is inclusive and does not leave anyone behind,” he said. “On the digital side, indeed, there is a tremendous potential to bring more people into employment through skills.”

The Commission says that the EU will need additional public and private investments in skills of around €48 billion annually.

Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, added that there are “hundreds of thousands” of job vacancies that can’t be filled because European don’t have the right digital skills.

“We want to enhance the possibility of intensive digital training,” Schmidt said, adding that the Commission is actively seeking the input of industry players.

For their part, industry welcomed the new plans.

“Covid-19 has exposed a number of societal divisions all across Europe. With lockdowns, the rush online became a stampede: schools, employers and enterprises of all shapes and sizes had to find a way to maintain services digitally,” the Vodafone Group’s External Affairs Director, Joakim Reiter told EURACTIV.

“As we start to think about economic recovery, and how to mitigate future unemployment, governments and industry need to combine to close these divides, and ensure everyone has the new skills needed to thrive in a fully inclusive, connected society.”

Reflecting on the necessity to boost digital skills across the bloc, an EU official said earlier this week that in the Commission there “has been a long discussion on what would be the percentage of jobs lost to digitalization,” but that ultimately “all jobs will be affected by digitalization”.

The EU official said that although ambitious, the 70% skill target “isn’t an impossible objective within the next five years.”

“We want EU citizens to have fundamental digital skills, just as they are able to read or do basic mathematics,” the official said.

More broadly, in the digital field, the Commission is currently working on introducing a Digital Education Action Plan this autumn, which Vice-President Schinas said will aim to “harvest the new interest in digital skills that was so reinforced during the pandemic.”

A public consultation on the Digital Education Action plan is open until 4 September.

Youth Employment Support Package

Moreover, as part of the Youth Employment Support Package presented by the Commission on Tuesday, the executive aims to boost plans to tackle youth unemployment, because “there is a risk that young people will be the victim of this crisis”, leading to a “lost generation or a lockdown generation”, warned Schmit.

He warned that young people in precarious jobs, with limited labour contracts, and those who did not enter the job market yet, were not protected by the short-time work schemes set up by member states to cushion the fallout of the coronavirus.

For Schmit, it is important to send a “signal” to young Europeans to show “they are not forgotten” in the recovery from the deepest downturn in the EU history.

The Commission proposed to allocate at least €22 billion over the next seven years to support this goal. Part of the money will be channelled through a beefed-up Youth Guarantee, initially set up in the aftermath of the 2008-2010 crisis.

Around 24 million young people have already benefited from this scheme that offers a job, education, apprenticeship or training within four months. However, the European Court of Auditors concluded in 2017 that the programme failed to meet the expectations raised.

Vice-President Dombrovskis said that they took into account the findings of the auditors’ report.

The Commission also put forward a recommendation for member states on vocational education and training, to make national systems more modern, attractive, flexible and aligned with the digital and green economy.

It also proposed to give a new push to the European Alliance for Apprenticeships, which has made available more than 900,000 opportunities. The Alliance supports SMEs at the national level and brings together trade unions and employers’ organisations.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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