European ambitions are possible to achieve – provided we start developing the talent of the future, today.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has the ambition of building a Europe that is fit for the digital age. I am not only supportive of this ambition, I believe that to make it a reality, we need European talent that is fit for the digital age.
Today, Europe is wrestling with a digital skills gap, which is putting the brakes on our economic growth. The latest EY Attractiveness Survey Europe (pdf) found that access to skilled labor and the availability of technology skills are critically important to shaping investment decisions. Yet three-quarters of European businesses are suffering from skills shortages that are damaging their productivity and profitability.
The fact is, we have insufficient skills in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics and robotics to compete effectively with markets outside of Europe. Research by LinkedIn, for example, has found that the US employs twice as many individuals with AI skills than the European Union (EU). This is despite its labor force being one third larger than the US.
It's not just advanced technological skills that we lack. Research by the European Commission in 2017 highlighted that almost half of European citizens (44%) aged between 16 and 74 do not have even basic digital skills. These might include the ability to communicate, transact and share information using electronic channels. This is very worrying, given that 9 out of 10 jobs in the future will require people to have digital skills.
The digital imperative
Clearly, if we want to address the mismatch in Europe between the skills that our people have and those which our economies need, we need to address it fast and together, coalescing the power of both governments and companies, the public and the private sectors.
The European institutions have a key role to play. Already, the European Commission has formulated its Digital Education Action Plan, which aims to support the use of technology and the development of digital competencies in education. It is also looking at improving the labor conditions of platform workers (pdf), notably by focusing on skills and education.
Initiatives such as these are setting us in the right direction when it comes to nurturing Europe's digital talent. We could accelerate by:
- Investing budget in helping young people and adults to develop digital skills and make sure they can access the training and opportunities they need, regardless of where they are located
- Equipping today's school-age population with digital skills. In fact, almost a quarter (24%) of respondents to our Attractiveness Survey thought that the EU needs to rethink education if it is to maintain its competitive position in the global economy. A special focus should be on girls, since women are currently underrepresented in STEM fields and could represent a large pool of digital talent in future
- Incentivizing companies to invest in the reskilling and upskilling of their people, perhaps by taking advantage of online learning platforms
- Encouraging companies to offer training opportunities through their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. At EY, for example, we will soon launch a program with a Brussels-based school, as part of our EY Ripples Corporate Responsibility program, supporting students aged between 15 and 16 to develop their digital and sustainability knowledge and hone their strategic skills
To supercharge its growth, Europe must encourage its people to use their digital skills in entrepreneurial ways. For some, this might mean offering their services as a consultant or contractor via online platforms. For others, this might mean starting a business that capitalizes on digital technology. My passionate belief in the transformative power of entrepreneurship, and the opportunities it offers, is the reason why I have joined the board of Junior Achievement Europe, Europe's largest provider of programs for entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial literacy.
Europe has several thriving startup hubs, including Paris, Berlin and Stockholm. However, the challenge is that we are better at helping businesses to start than at helping them to scale. Too often, entrepreneurial businesses that reach a certain level of maturity end up moving to other markets to obtain the level of capital and infrastructure they need. Let's retain those businesses – and their talent – in Europe. We can do this by putting policies in place that enable them to attain a level of maturity and enable Europe to grow a respective ecosystem to support them, for example with financial funding that makes it possible for them to remain here.