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Yvonne van Hest: As digital skills gap grows, Europe needs labor mobility, flexible training

Yvonne+FB(Editor’s note: This post is by Yvonne van Hest, Program Director at Brainport Development in Eindhoven, Netherlands. It was originally posted on the Brainport blog, and is reposted here with permission. Ms. Van Hest participated in the European Digital Jobs Fair 2015 last month in Madrid. The event attracted 60 companies, including JP Morgan, Amazon UK, German company KuppingerCole information security, Dutch companies such as TomTom and Booking.com and the Spanish subsidiaries of Accenture and IBM.)

In Europe we face an enormous challenge.

Two years ago, European Union’s former Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes put this challenge clearly on the map in the “Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs”: Europe has a significant shortage of people with digital skills.

It’s a challenge that exists with many different aspects … a challenge we need to tackle jointly in Europe.

And that is exactly what we are doing, together with 13 partners in the Digital Jobs project.

As one of the partners in this project, Brainport focuses on the labour mobility of information and communication technology professionals in Europe. And that was what our event in Madrid last month was all about: shortages and mismatches of ICT professionals on the European labour market. This year, the European Digital Jobs Fair 2015 was very successful, with over 500 participants, including 250 jobseekers visiting the fair to find new opportunities in the digital sector, both in Spain and abroad.

During the event, employers from the Netherlands, Scotland, Germany and Spain with ICT vacancies were brought together with Spanish jobseekers. Besides this, multinationals, policy makers and politicians came together and presented their visions on the theme in addresses and panel discussions.

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 8.45.51 AMWhat did we want to achieve in particular? The strengthening of a joint European labour market and an integral European approach concerning the shortages of ICT professionals.

Last year, we conducted research into the countries with the highest demand for ICT talent and the countries with the highest supply of people. That research indicates Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Germany  are the largest “demand countries” whereas Spain and Poland are the largest “supply countries.”

The primary aim of the Digital Jobs fair: Matching supply and demand. But what we soon realized was employers from Spain were facing increasing shortages of ICT professionals themselves. Event host Telefonica, located in Madrid, has a number of vacancies for which they cannot find people in Spain.

The Spanish secretary of state of Social Affairs and Labour made clear the size of the paradox Spain is experiencing at the moment – more than 4 million job seekers versus the creation of 300,000 new jobs on a yearly basis. On the one hand, this is positive as new jobs involve economic growth. Yet, on the other hand, it’s very alarming as more than half of the youngsters in Spain are still unemployed.

European Commissioner Günther Oettinger said the EU needs an annual increase of 150,000 IT experts, not only in the ICT sector, but in all sectors. Currently, 40 percent of all European companies are having trouble finding qualified ICT professionals, a point confirmed by the more than 60 companies participating onsite and online at the Digital Jobs fair. In fact, those 60 companies brought more than 1,200 ICT vacancies with them to the fair.

Thus, we see an increase in both the ICT skills shortage and the talent mismatch in the whole of Europe. And I think we need to tackle this talent issue on a European level. So, I would like to mention the following issues I collected from the panel discussions and speeches at Digital Jobs Fair:

  1. Europe needs to improve the relationship between education and the labour market
    This is crucial. And challenging. As it is becoming more and more difficult for companies to know on the long term what kind of people are needed for their future jobs – let alone what these jobs involve – and thus also how education can contribute. And besides, education needs to change dramatically and at least be arranged more flexibly.
  2. Europe needs to retrain the unemployed
    This is also crucial. To reduce unemployment more people need to be (re)trained. And I also think employers should play a role in this by looking more carefully at the profiles they need and not always search for “the unicorn.”
  3. Europe needs to keep expanding labour mobility
    Despite growing shortages of ICT professionals in nearly all European countries and sectors, the stimulation of a European labour market remains important. Mobility does not cause brain drain, but a brain gain, or even better a talent circulation. Together we can offer international work experience to people, knowledge sharing and cultural diversity. By doing this, we strengthen our European workforce.

These are “just” three issues that I mention here from DigitalJobs Fair. I am sure there are many more.

For me, the gathering again confirmed the challenges we encounter require new ways of collaboration. In the Brainport region we have already been talking about “multi helix” collaboration for a while now. However, the people in Spain were surprised when I told them that in our region, education, business and government have been collaborating closely for years in a triple helix.

They were even more surprised when I told them that in our program Brainport Talent Centre, employers from the same sector share talent in increasingly closer ways of collaboration. And yet I believe in these kinds of collaborations – as opposed to competition – make Europe stronger.

Finally, I think we should especially realize we cannot achieve technological innovation – and thus economic growth – without people, just as Günther Oettinger said in his speech:

“… In the end, it is about people and it is about jobs. It is about empowering citizens and workers by equipping them with the right skills to live, work and prosper in a digital economy and society.”

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