The high-tech sector has remained stable during the financial crisis with 19% higher wages and an unemployment rate consistently below 4%, according to a new study by the Belgian university KU Leuven (KUL).
The high technology business has grown two and a half times more than all other job sectors since 2000, says the study, High-technology employment in the European Union.
The report makes a number of policy recommendations to the European Commission.
Professor Maarten Goos, one of the authors, said at a conference organised by the economic think tank Bruegel that it was key for EU governments and institutions to pursue job creation, invest in high-tech skills and share knowledge across European regions in that sector.
The authors also stressed the importance of the “spillover effect” of high-tech jobs to other economic sectors.
The study defines high-tech jobs as “those involved in the production of high-tech goods and services or otherwise engaged in highly technical activities in other industries”, including “those employed in science, technology, engineering and math (also known as STEM occupations) in non-high tech industries.”
Education is key
“We estimate that the creation of one high-tech job in a local economy creates more than four additional non-high tech jobs in the same region, this includes workers across the skill spectrum, such as lawyers, physicians, waiters, taxi drivers, schoolteachers…”
Investing in high-tech skills means that policy-makers will have to focus on providing the population with the required high-tech education. That “education needs to be broader than just STEM”, the experts added, citing innovation, management, communication and problem-solving skills to help educate the labour force.
Investing in life-long learning is just as crucial as the sector is a rapidly-changing one and need for adaptation is constant.
Goos also warned that “retraining will have to happen several times in the course of a career,” leading to a “sense of insecurity" for the workers.
Policymakers, he said, should target that feeling of uncertainty by leading education and training programmes.
“The focus on high-tech jobs is key”, Goos concluded, cautioning that “high-tech employment creates more and better jobs as long as policy creates the necessary skills".
However the speakers made clear that it is indispensable to “modernise the curricula”. Lucilla Sioli from the European Commission's DG Connect, said coding courses “should become mandatory” in IT curricula. “Lots of jobs will require coding in the future, people will have to be able to program or modify a piece of software themselves,” she stressed.
Europe 'needs to be proactive'
European Commission officials unanimously welcomed the study, saying it “confirms that [the Commission] has been doing the right thing.”
Cornelis Vis from the European Commission's Bureau of European Policy Advisers (BEPA) told the audience that the EU executive had already done "a lot over the past four years” by taking measures at EU and national level to “develop an ecosystem for high-tech companies”.
A report to be submitted to the EU Council in March will take stock of the progress achieved so far, he said, but “news are disappointing, we are going backwards” he added, without giving further details.
“It will be up to the next Commission to plot the policy for the next period until 2020,” Vis said stressing that Europe will “have to be proactive" in the years ahead.
“Since policy has always lagged behind … Europe should not wake up when it’s too late with a social and economic shock.”
Vis said there are two important principles for both EU institutions and member states in the coming years. The first is research and development, on which “member states have been muddling for 15 years”, he said. The official accused EU countries of “resisting” any legislative attempt in that area from the Commission, rejecting targets “because they are afraid they won’t meet them.”
The second one is the modernisation of education, as stressed by the researchers.