The Strategist

UK and France cannot tackle the digital skills gap

10/25/2018 - 15:39

The rapid digitalization of the economy resulted in the fact that the majority of the population of small and medium-sized businesses in Europe is finding it difficult to find people with the proper skills and qualifications in the field of digital technologies. Not only officials and experts of the labor market of individual European countries, such as the United Kingdom and France, but also representatives of the European Commission speak of the need to take urgent measures to improve the digital literacy of the population.

According to the National Institute of Statistics of France, more and more companies in this country are complaining about a shortage of labor with the necessary skills in the digital field. In September, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said at a press conference that the issue of staff qualifications is the country's most acute economic problem. “Now our training system does not provide all the necessary skills,” the official said. According to the July report of the French state-owned investment bank Bpifrance, to which the FT refers, nine out of ten French medium-sized businesses are having trouble hiring employees. The reason is the low level of qualifications of applicants, including in the digital field.

“A paradoxical situation has developed in the French labor market. On the one hand, we have a fairly high level of unemployment, and on the other hand, medium-sized companies are experiencing a shortage of employees,” said Nicolas Bouzou, head of the French center for economic research Asteres, in an interview with FT.

In his opinion, there are three main reasons for this situation - the lack of applicants with qualifications necessary for specific positions; too generous social programs to help the unemployed in France who do not encourage them to look for work or improve their skills; and shortage of housing or too expensive housing in places and regions where companies needing personnel are located.

According to official data, at the end of last year, there were 200–300 thousand unoccupied positions in France, so the authorities stepped up national programs for retraining and advanced training of personnel. A total of € 32 billion was allocated for such programs. In March of this year, the government announced that from January 2020 every employee of a French company or enterprise working in a full-time position would receive € 5,000 each, which can be spent on courses or programs on training, retraining or advanced training.

At the end of last year, the European Directorate for the Digital Economy and Society organized a conference in Brussels. During the event, the participants voiced a number of problems in the EU labor market. At the conference, Carolina Carvalheira, a specialist in introducing innovations in education and business of the Dutch non-governmental organization Enactus at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, said that "today 44% of adults in Europe either have weak digital skills or do not have them at all." Realizing the lag of the European labor market from the rapid digitalization of the economy, the European Commission launched the special program Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition already in December 2016. It involves about 300 European IT companies, as well as companies which activities are closely related to IT, such as banks, medical companies, clothing manufacturers. With the active participation and funding of the European Commission, participants in this program conduct courses and seminars to improve digital skills not only for their employees, but also for students as well as for those who, because of their low digital skills, cannot find work yet. One of the objectives of the program is to train by 2020 1 million temporarily unemployed young people through internships, seminars and courses with their subsequent employment based on the knowledge gained in the digital field.

British labor market experts are also sounding the alarm. The head of Learnerbly, a HR consultancy in London, Rajeeb Dey, said in an article for Entrepreneur Europe that now Europe is undergoing the fourth industrial revolution - a time of rapid technological, economic and social changes that will shorten the “shelf life” of the current qualification to just five years. 

As an example to follow, the expert cites Singapore. There, a state initiative was launched in 2015, under which about $ 500 is allocated to each citizen of the country, which he can spend on going through the special SkillsFuture program. It involves training in digital literacy courses in a variety of ways, from data analysis to cybersecurity. Thus, the Singapore authorities want to improve the digital skills of the population, bringing them to the standards of the modern economy.