To close the digital skills gap, Europe must modernize its outdated public digital education programs, integrate and streamline private digital education initiatives, and better coordinate pan-European digital skills initiatives, networks and ecosystems.
The digital transformation, accelerated by the COVID-19 induced digital surge of the past two years, requires a skills revolution in Europe. It is a challenge and opportunity where matters of inclusion and growth converge with one another. Europe needs educational systems fit for the digital age, alongside supplementary programs to train and retrain the part of the adult population which has long left their studies behind. It is a two-sided challenge, concerning both basic digital skills, as part of today’s understanding of literacy, and specialised skills needed for European firms and organisations both to innovate in Key Enabling Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence or Internet of Things as well as to stay safe and secure bearing the needed cybersecurity specialists.
The importance of the two dimensions - basic digital skills and digital specialism - has been underscored by the ambitious targets that the EU’s Digital Compass set for 2030 in the domain of digital skills. However, latest research predicts that current initiatives will fail to meet two key goals of the Digital Compass - to provide at least 80% of Europe’s adult population with basic digital skills, and to employ 20 million digital specialists in the EU by 2030. Without a substantial increase in investments and innovations on the supply side, the current trajectory indicates that by 2030 only 64% of the population will attain at least basic digital skills (short 16 percentage points from the target) and only 13.3 million digital specialists will be employed (short 6.7 million from the target).
In this report, EIT Digital tackles the issues of digital skills and digital specialism through analysis of the supply of broadly defined education and training presented by both public and private institutions. We identify the main gaps in the status quo, extract from these foresight scenarios, and provide three core recommendations for how the most favourable scenario could be achieved in Europe:
- The entire European public education system, from primary schools up to universities, needs to urgently modernize the largely outdated digital education programs. The public offering must reform its curricula at primary, secondary, and university levels by making them more responsive to the changing technologies and labour market needs. This requires organisational and governance reforms to open the systems to partnerships with civil society as well as tangible investments in connectivity and in new training for both teachers and professors.
- The scattered private digital education initiatives should move to a complementary, broader, and better coordinated overall offering of digital skills initiatives. To reach also the middle level in the scale of digital skills, non-governmental providers should broaden their scope both in terms of topics and targets of their training. Tech giants and other private players should provide courses that are not just strictly instrumental to their technological ecosystem. In partnership with local governments and/or public institutions, they should offer scholarships or other financial schemes that would increase the pool of participants to their education offering. For this, new partnerships between educational institutions, businesses, NGOs, and governments are needed.
- There is a need for better orchestrated pan-European digital skills initiatives, networks, and ecosystems to increase overall quality, efficiency, and effectiveness. To achieve the digital skill targets of the European Digital Compass in a fair, inclusive, and sustainable way, and given the huge challenges and costs involved, there is a need for collaboration at European level. The emerging trends of pan-EU education initiatives like those of the EIT and the European University Networks should be better coordinated, further strengthened, and extended to include the private sector. There is an orchestration role for the European Commission to work in close collaboration with the Member States to establish a fair and inclusive digital skills education system across Europe that involves both public and private education providers.