Developing digital excellence in Europe

When the Digital Single Market Roadmap was published in May 2015, little emphasis was placed on the challenge of improving digital skills.  

European policymakers are now fully aware that digital skills are critical for a smooth and effective digitalization of society and economy. As Commissioner Günther Oettinger rightly pointed out in March 2016, «we won’t make the most of the Digital Single Market unless we boost digital skills ».

A digital-ready workforce

First reaction to the now well-identified insufficient level of digital skills in the European workforce has been to promote the inclusion of ICT and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in school curricula, with the aim of tackling youth unemployment. This is indeed a necessary step towards the upgrading of digital skills, along with awareness-raising initiatives targeting youngsters, like the Orange ‘IT serious game’.

While the understanding and the mastering of ICT are a crucial stake for citizens, one should not forget that another key challenge is to provide new skills to the European workforce in order to avoid the emergence of a generational gap between future “digital-ready” graduates and the regular workforce.

Therefore the role of the EU should be to provide greater consistency in training and support certification schemes throughout the Union, so that no one will be left out of the digital transition.

Digital creators for a competitive Europe

Nevertheless, having a tech-savvy society is far from being sufficient for Europe to fully reap the benefits of the digital revolution. Beyond the acquisition of basic and advanced digital skills, creativity and innovation capacity are the real enablers of a competitive European digital ecosystem.

Hence the need to foster digital creation and innovation aside from just promoting digital consumption. This starts with European industrial production lines adopting digital technologies and processes. The economic and social benefits would be greater for the European economy if the strategy for improving digital skills succeeded in promoting European “makers”.

Good news is that the European Commission stepped in to promote the maker culture. In a recently published blog post, Roberto Viola announced a forthcoming « European Maker Week », with the aim of gathering the European community of digital makers.

From promoting basic digital skills to fostering digital entrepreneurship, the European Union seems to have identified the right initiatives and actions to set the stage for a bright digital future. Since education and labor market policies are not in the direct remit of the European institutions, let us hope that the momentum initiated at the EU level will be followed by a coordinated approach in the different Member States.