Europe lagging behind on digital skills development, says EU official
Barriers to lifelong learning and limited investment in training are slowing down the European Union’s efforts to fill the digital skills gap by 2030, according to EU representatives and experts, who pointed to the need for increased upskilling and reskilling support.
The European Commission has warned that the bloc is making slow progress in reaching the goals of having 80% of adult EU citizens with basic digital skills and 20 million employed ICT specialists by 2030.
“On both accounts, we are not doing as well as we would like to,” Georgi Dimitrov, head of unit on digital education at the Commission, told an event organised by EURACTIV.
“If we extrapolate the growth of the last five years, and we look forward to 2030, we’re not going to reach our targets,” he added.
According to Eurostat, in 2021, 54% of people in the EU aged 16 to 74 had at least basic overall digital skills, but this number varied widely – from 79% in the Netherlands and Finland to 28% in Romania. Moreover, this share falls to 26% when looking at people with more advanced digital skills.
According to Dimitrov, the digital skills gap needs to be addressed urgently through education.
“We need to promote an effective digital education ecosystem […] and we have to constantly and continuously develop digital skills because they are [changing] all the time,” he said, stressing the need for increased lifelong learning.
Low training uptake
Under the European Pillar of Social Rights, the EU is seeking to make sure at least 60% of all adults participate in training every year by 2030. Yet, in 2021, the share of adults who reported taking part in education or training was 10.8%, with the highest numbers in Sweden, Finland, and the Netherlands.
According to a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, training remains low in many countries due to the cost of training and the relevance and quality of training provided.
Anders Lindholm, a counsellor on educational affairs at the Swedish permanent representation to the EU, pointed to the need for increased support for people undertaking upskilling or reskilling.
“I think for many people, it’s financially difficult and it’s also sort of socially difficult to take too much time off to upskill and reskill unless there is enough support,” he said.
Raffaela Kihrer, vice-president of The Lifelong Learning Platform (LLLP), said it is often a “question of environments and how conducive they are to learning,” and pointed to the key role played by childcare, paid training leave and financial incentives for adults taking up courses.
However, there are other barriers too, according to Kihrer, who stressed the need for more public investment in lifelong learning.
“We now have 0.1% of the GDP spent on adult learning on average across the EU and still we expect very large results from it,” she said.
Adapting education systems
At the same time, traditional education needs to be adapted to meet the current labour market needs, said Thomas Mulder, HR executive director at VodafoneZiggo.
Dimitrov agreed that digital skills development is “not integrated into our education and training systems” and added that education has a key role in making sure the majority of Europeans develop digital competences.
To boost the development of digital skills across member states in education and training, the European Commission is expected to present a digital education and skills package in mid-April.
However, the package will only provide member states with recommendations, due to the EU’s limited competences in the field of education.