On 19 September EIF hosted a breakfast debate on E-Skills and Digital Literacy. Pilar Del Castillo, MEP and EIF Chair, opened the floor to address the lack of digital literacy in Europe.
The first to start the debate was Fiona Fanning, EU Affairs Manager at the ECDL Foundation. She began by pointing out the growing societal costs associated with the lack of digital literacy in Europe. Ms. Fanning referred to the study which showed that workers’ lack of ICT skills can contribute to a productivity loss of up to €19.3 billion per annum. She emphasized that merely waiting for the so-called “digital native” generation to enter the workforce is not a solution to the skills deficit. While young people possess a high level of confidence in the use of consumer devices and social media, research suggests that this does not translate into the skills employers are looking for.
Ms. Fanning spoke to a digital skills imperative at the national level. Member states are rather slow in creating digital literacy policies. As a solution Ms. Fanning proposed that funding targets earmarked for digital literacy programs be set at the national level.
She concluded her speech by asking her audience to look to the future, where even if targets set forth by the Digital Agenda are met Europe will still be left with one quarter of the population lacking basic digital skills. “So,” she continued, “are we presently aiming high enough to create a truly Digital Europe?”
The second speaker was Markus Schwarz, Senior Vice President & Global Head of SAP Education. He started his speech by mentioning the fact that SAP provides training to about 300,000 partners and customers every year. This is a strategic step for SAP as the lack of SAP skills is a limitation for the company to grow. Mr. Schwarz remarked that IT skills remain in relatively high demand through economic downturns so it is vital that Europe addresses its present shortage of skilled IT professionals. He offered two ways to address the situation. One is to remove regulations that prevent mobility within the EU, while also trying to attract talents from outside the EU and retaining talented students with degrees from EU universities. Another way to address this problem is to train people, who are already in the job market. As an example of industry training, he mentioned SAP’s programme in Germany. During 2011, 800 unemployed people were trained with SAP skills and about 1,200 people with IT skills. Another example is SAP’s “Veterans to Work Programme” which targets veterans who want to re-enter civilian life. Latin American programs, such as “Esperanca” and “Mexico First”, are good examples of governments working together with youth organisations and IT providers to offer specific programmes, aiming to teach young people e-skills and find them a job. Each of these programmes has a very specific target audience and occurs on the local level funded by governments and industry. Mr. Schwarz stressed that these programs increase the competitiveness of each country and the region as well, take people out of unemployment and create jobs that are more immune to recession.
Karl Cox, EMEA Vice President for Public Policy and Corporate Affairs at Oracle Corporation, also acknowledged the shortage of e-skills in Europe. The figures in Europe show that 700,000 jobs in the ICT sector will remain unfilled over the next 3 years. The combination of e-skills training, certification programs, and joint academic-industrial projects may not prove sufficient. Mr. Cox advocated targeted changes in immigration policy as a near-term solution to increase the supply of skilled labor in Europe. Mr. Cox presented numbers showing that EU is lagging behind in attracting highly-skilled immigrant labor. According to his figures less than 5 percent of migrants coming to the EU to seek jobs are highly qualified individuals. In countries like the US, Canada, Australia or even Switzerland this figure rises higher than 50 – 55 percent. In light of this, Cox stressed the need to attract talented non-EU immigrants to meet the short-term labor supply gap, supplementing ongoing efforts to build these skills in Europe. Under present macroeconomic conditions many young people are open to the idea of migration as they seek career opportunities. If the EU does not have a policy to attract such highly-skilled individuals they will go elsewhere. Cox noted that the EU has limited powers in the area of migration policy and much of this has to be done on the national level.
The Blue Card Directiveis one of the actions that has been taken on the EU level to attract professionals. Its purpose is to ensure that skilled individuals can come into Europe for 2 years with a possibility to extend this period. However, this initiative is taking off slowly.
Mr. Cox also called attention to the ICT (Intra-Corporate Transfer) Directive, proposed by the European Commission. This directive would help corporations to move employees into the EU for short and temporary periods of time. The ICT directive would establish harmonized conditions for granting visas and would speed up the process.
Mr. Cox concluded by saying that certification, training and other actions that have been taken are very important. However, we cannot overlook the necessity to open the EU to those individuals who have skills we need and would be willing to come and work in Europe.See event