Collaboration delivers digital skills for a digital Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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GiorgiaEpicoco_cropped [HUAWEI EU]

There is a significant digital skills gap in Europe. To overcome this problem, strategic collaboration between public and private actors is key. Overcoming the digital skills gap will ensure that technology will continue to be beneficial for an inclusive and fair society, today and tomorrow.

Giorgia Epicoco is Senior EU Public Affairs Manager at HUAWEI EU.

The digital age has brought about challenges and opportunities for businesses, governments and societies alike. Since the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, practitioners across sectors and countries have come together to analyze the risks and the new prospects of this new industrial era. Technological advancements have offered little time to think and numerous opportunities to act. And to act, human capital must be developed.

Education has always been a cornerstone of public policy, especially in Europe. The European Union has put a lot of emphasis on educational programmes, and more recently on reskilling, upskilling, and lifelong learning as critical pillars of the Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027). These are essential elements when embracing the digital and green twin transition. Moreover, as businesses have transformed at an unprecedented pace making it challenging for academic institutions to keep up, new forms of education offer European citizens tools for new employment opportunities or to stay employed.

The challenges of the digital age of the European Union are numerous. In 2019, one out of five European households remained without access to fast broadband coverage due to the lack of digital infrastructure. In 2020, more than half of all EU companies had difficulty recruiting IT specialists. How can the EU be at the forefront of the digital and green twin transition when such problems hide around the corner? Two fundamental issues require our immediate attention to bridge the gap: open collaboration and skills development, with the two being closely connected.

It is undeniable that in the EU, there is a digital skills gap coupled with skills mismatch and a staggering gender gap, as we also outlined in the white paper released with ALL DIGITAL and EY “Strategies to address the digital skills gap in the EU.” Only 1 in 5 employed IT specialists were women across the EU in 2020. About two-thirds of EU citizens with low digital skills will need to improve their level of digital literacy by 2025 to reach the set goals in the Digital Education Plan. While the EU employed 8,4 million IT specialists in 2020 due to the increased demand spurred by COVID-19, we still need over 350,000 specialists to fill existing vacancies. Open collaboration with far more advanced countries and companies could ease the burden on European shoulders, bolstering talent mobility, knowledge and technology transfer helping to fill an existing gap causing rising unemployment rates across the Union.

The European Union is a leader in promoting knowledge and technological transfer, believing that improving educational opportunities is a crucial enabler of change and development. According to the donor tracker, in 2019, the European Union spent EUR 1 billion of its official development assistance on education, making the EU the largest OECD donor to this sector. The spillover effect of ensuring and fostering global partnerships with ICT providers in the European Union through academic collaboration, knowledge exchange, capacity building, and dialogue will help Europe to close the digital gaps at all levels, benefiting students, teachers, public servants, SMEs and startups. Open collaboration through education in the European Union can deliver on the promises of the digital and green twin transition. At Huawei, we firmly believe we can be that trusted partner, as demonstrated by our 22 years of experience in Europe working with European partners for European customers.

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