The European Commission has launched the New Skills Agenda for Europe, along with a number of actions “to ensure that the right training, the right skills and the right support is available to people in the European Union”. This comes in the context of the highly impactful changes caused by the new technological developments, particularly on the labour market.
The impact of disruptive technologies has always surpassed the market level, coming to influence the way that employers select their workforce. The Digital Revolution has brought about major shifts when it comes to the labour market, causing it to need to adapt not only to the new types of products and services, but also to the new types of business models.
We can notice, within the debates concerning the effects of the Digital Revolution, two main voices: the enthusiastic one, that cherishes the quick rate that new technologies appear (and the way they solve some of the problems our societies our facing – two examples would be new tech in healthcare and e-governance), and a more pessimistic one, which is prudent of the consequences, especially when it comes to the labor force.
This isn’t without reason. Besides the more “impressive” challenges that the Digital Revolution poses, such as the replacement of labour force by automation (this year, for example, Foxconn has laid down 60000 workers and replaced them with robots), there are more subtle but widespread consequences, the digital divide being one of them. As a World Bank report has noted, the opportunities of the Digital Revolution seem to be concentrated around a smaller percent of economical elites than benefiting a vast majority of the global population. According to the same report, 60% of the world population is entirely excluded from the opportunities of the digital economy. At a European Union level, almost half of the population lacks basic digital skills, with around 20% of people not having any at all. However, the demand for digital technology professionals has grown by 4% annually in the last ten years, it is expected that, by 2020, 90% of jobs – in careers such as engineering, accountancy, nursing, medicine, art, architecture, and many more – will require some level of digital skills, while the vacancy of jobs is expected to be no less than 825.000.
In this context, it becomes highly necessary to prepare the workforce for the future labour market. Crucial for this is the development of digital skills. In this regard, there have been increasingly more initiatives coming from the European Union, under the Digital Agenda. The most recent is the New Skills Agenda for Europe, which attempts to respond to these challenges by a series of actions, aiming to “improve the quality and relevance of skills formation, make skills more visible and comparable, and improve skills intelligence and information for better career choices”. The actions proposed include a ‘Skills Guarantee’, The ‘Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition, the ‘Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation on Skills’, Recommendation on Key Competences’, amongst others, and focus on the young, working age and older population.
The impact of these initiatives is yet to be assessed (the progress can be tracked on the Implementation of the Digital Agenda page). There are also views that the efforts have to be doubled by action undertaken by the private sector, who would most certainly benefit from increasing digital literacy amongst EU citizens. Or, as the ‘Riga Declaration on e-skills’ notes, ‘e-skills are of fundamental importance to Europe’s medium to long-term economic future. They enable economies to take advantage of the productivity gains from adopting digital solutions; meet the growing industry demand for skilled staff, and increase opportunities for individuals in today’s difficult job market.’