15 Sep

On any given day in mid-April, around the world, we saw more than 300 million active users on Zoom, more than 100 million on Google Classroom, more than 75 million on Microsoft Teams. PCs have become so much a part of our life that they are everywhere, so much so that we no longer even notice their presence, as has already happened with electricity. The outbreak of the pandemic has brought with it an unprecedented acceleration in the digitization of processes, a “digital empowerment” that translates into an increased awareness of how technology and its applications do not replace but help humans to live better. But are we able to drive this acceleration?

I will quote you a fact among all of them. According to “The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) 2020, the index that measures the performance of EU countries on the digital economy and society, over the past year, all EU countries improved their digital performance. Finland, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands scored the highest ratings in DESI 2020 and are among the global leaders in digitalization. These countries are followed by Malta, Ireland and Estonia. Some other countries however still have a long way to go, and the EU as a whole needs improvement to be able to compete on the global stage. The data are encouraging from a global perspective, but not if we look at the local and individual situations in the individual Member States. In the past year, there was an improvement both in internet user skills (at least basic digital skills) and in advanced skills (ICT graduates and ICT specialists). In 2019, the percentage of people having at least basic digital skills reached 58% (up from 55% in 2015). A large part of the EU population, however, still lacks basic digital skills, even though most jobs require such skills. In 2018, some 9.1 million people worked as ICT specialists across the EU, 1.6 million more than 4 years earlier. Nevertheless, there remains a shortage of ICT specialists on the labour market: 64% of large enterprises and 56% of SMEs that recruited ICT specialists during 2018, reported hard to fill vacancies for ICT specialists. These individual shortcomings inevitably reverberate on our companies less prone to “digital transformation”, causing low productivity and less ability to penetrate markets. The question that arises, therefore, that of digital skills represents a great emergency and is one of the priority challenges we face in order to increase the competitiveness of our system and increase the quality of our labour market, in fact, over 40% of skills key requirements to fill existing jobs will change by 2022 and, over the next 20 years, 90% of jobs will require digital skills.

I recently attended as a panellist to a European Commission conference about the new Digital Plan which will be adopted within a few months and which should give the Member States guidelines on how to reform national education systems for the future challenges that lie ahead. The discussions and the exchange of views were very fruitful, yet I have two questions left to which I have not yet been able to give answers. First, when the Member States will seriously start to modernize the education system or at least will implement some urgent issue like the modernization of the curricula? When will they start investing to give the right to infrastructures to afford the challenges, we have in front of us? It is really time for the Member States to rush to understand that we can no longer afford to wait. We must act immediately for the modernization of educational systems in a digital sense, invest in having STEM subjects from the earliest classes, coding lessons, mathematics and physics at all school levels, curricula closest to the needs of companies, breaking down the barriers between humanistic and technical training only. In the education of the future, I would like to see the philosopher who can program a computer and an engineer have social science skills. The consequence of any delay will see the tech giants in really 2 or 3 years creating a new monopole in the education offers. A few weeks ago it was news that Google launched a global training program to train the necessary profiles for tech companies. The awarded diploma will be recognized worldwide as a kind of “Google certified”. It is a higher technical training program mainly run online with top-level trainers. Will schools and universities, above all, be able to react, modernize and contain the shock wave that is about to hit European training systems if the other tech giants will follow along with similar initiatives?