Collaborate to innovate: bridging the digital skills gap

The potential benefits of a digital Europe cannot be underestimated. We live in an age where the global economy is still in recovery and the need to boost productivity across Europe is very clear.

Look at the evidence: according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) economic research service (ERS) between 2000 and 2015, the index measuring US revenue generation had climbed from 118 to 138, while its European Union (EU) equivalent struggled to maintain its reading of 128. That stalling is a major problem and must be addressed in order to reach the continent’s economic potential. Digital technology is core to this.

According to the European Parliament (EP), a digital single market could create an additional €340bn in economic growth with 315m Europeans using the internet daily – reflecting a huge demand for digital services. In the UK alone, 1.46m people are employed in digital companies; this being any company whose primary capability is producing software or delivering software-enabled hardware. Yet despite this a huge stumbling block prevents us from reaching digital potential, which is skills.

Unskilled for the future

It will not be long before every company will be in some part a software company and therefore every job will be in ‘IT’. This fact is almost universally acknowledged with a recent paper from research and consultancy firm Pierre Audoin Consultants (PAC) stating that three quarters of European businesses state that expanding their digital presence is the top IT priority over the next two years.

This reality will shake up industries – leading to both huge successes and failures, which will either make or break organisations. More challengingly, it will lead to the creation of a future jobs landscape that very few of us can truly fathom and even fewer of us are prepared for. The same research found that only 34% of European organisations feel well prepared in terms of recruiting digital skills. Additionally, a Fujitsu-commissioned study to assess the digital confidence of Western European organisations found that over half (52%) of financial sector organisations do not have the right skills in place to successfully deliver digital projects.

We live in a region where the number one difficulty in filling a role is a lack of technical competencies. Being able to use an iPad at the age of three is not effectively preparing our children to thrive in a software-driven world. A clear divide will form in the Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa (EMEIA) region between those countries that are preparing talent in the right way for this and those that are not.

Get ready and innovate

The challenge of instilling the skills in a new generation to ensure we maximise digital’s potential is not something that can be met quickly. It will take long-term collaboration between all digital parties. Yet whatever happens, it must happen quickly because we are now playing catch-up. According to Fujitsu’s own research, only 25% of organisations across the UK, Germany, Spain and Sweden class themselves as ‘extremely confident’ in advising their business on digital while almost two-thirds (60%) admit it’s difficult to know the right choices to make.

We need to remove uncertainty by ensuring that the next generations of digital workers are more able to fulfil their role as digital innovator. All countries in Europe must create a curriculum which is current and prepares students for the reality of modern working life – in this case a digital environment. Just as educational bodies may work with scientific organisations to set science curriculums, the same approach should be taken with technology. We must communicate and work together to develop the right curriculum and encourage young people to move into technology.

For example in the UK, Fujitsu has established the Ambassador Programme to drive transformational change in education through technology. As part of this, the group works with education establishments to develop digital skills for both teachers and students and provide opportunity to develop career skills and help in future employment opportunity. In Germany, the group runs an integrated degree programme with predominantly technical universities across the country. It employs students who complete an in-house apprenticeship recognised by the Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Deutscher Industrie- und Handelskammertag, DIHK), while also studying full-time at university, from where they eventually graduate after their three to four year course with a Bachelor degree.

Europe’s digital future also depends on bridging the disconnect between business leaders and their employees. The study found that 59% of businesses believe their organisation does not have the right skills to successfully deliver digital projects, which is reflected in the figure of 71% who admit the success of the majority of digital projects in their organisation “is a gamble”. At the same time, 76% of those businesses say there is an appetite to move faster towards digital.

In short, employees are positive about the impact of digital, but they lack confidence and feel confused about digital priorities. To address this, boards should start looking at developing new digital talent strategies today as they develop longer-term digital plans.

To thrive in a digital world, businesses need to hire employees with the right skills. However, this isn’t just about the success of the individual organisation – the European economy relies on it too. This is why all parts of that ecosystem are responsible for closing the digital skills gap. It is not a quick fix and it will take time, planning and collaboration. But it is absolutely essential and everyone – from governments to technology vendors and educational institutions – must act now.


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