Digital skills are critical for people of all ages to study, work and communicate effectively. But across Europe, four in ten adults and a third of workers still lack basic digital skills, according to the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI).
With technology being a significant part of everyday life – and essential for accessing online public services – the challenge of a growing ‘digital skills divide’ is compounded by the underrepresentation of women and minority groups in tech professions. Only one in three science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates are women.
The European Year of Skills
To tackle the lack of skills across the continent, the European Commission marked the official start of the European Year of Skills on Europe Day (Tuesday, 9 May).
The European Year of Skills puts skills at the heart of the EU policy debate and aims to address skills shortages by showcasing development opportunities and activities. The Commission wants to foster easier recognition of qualifications across borders, bringing organisations and people together to share experiences and insights and set out how EU initiatives and funding can help.
The European Commission is stepping up and advancing skills development on the ground through a four-pronged approach:
- Promoting higher, more effective, and inclusive investment in training and upskilling. Ensuring skills are relevant to labour market needs, including cooperating with social partners and companies.
- Matching people’s aspirations and skill sets with opportunities in the job market, especially for the green and digital transition and the economic recovery.
- Attracting skills and talent from third countries by strengthening learning opportunities and mobility and facilitating the recognition of qualifications.
Joakim Reiter, External Affairs Director at Vodafone Group, explained: “Europe still faces a significant skills gap, and to achieve Europe’s digital transformation, we must start with closing this deep digital divide. Technology is a growing part of occupations across Europe, and 94 million European workers are expected to need upskilling, and an estimated 21 million workers may need to find completely new jobs.”
“The European Year of Skills, starting in May, shows that the European Commission recognises the importance of education, upskilling and reskilling. But this will also need to be matched with targeted investment and requires new partnerships between the public and private sector for us to achieve Europe’s digital ambitions.”
Youth study in Germany finds around 70% of new workers need more preparation for the digital world
Ahead of the European Year of Skills, Vodafone Germany Foundation surveyed 2,069 young people between the ages of 14 and 24 to understand their expectations and experiences of living and working in a digital world.
The study, published in March 2023, found that young people in Germany recognise the importance of digital skills for their future but currently feel underprepared. 79% viewed digital skills as indispensable, but 69% of graduates felt inadequately prepared for the workplace.
Young ‘digital natives’ showed a reflective self-assessment of their digital skills, with a third doubting they could recognise fake news and 48% feeling insecure about data protection issues on the Internet.
Schools play a critical role in equipping young people for the future. Despite some forward-thinking schools and teachers, education systems are inadequately set up to provide these skills. Vodafone Germany Foundation’s study highlighted a lack of quality digital infrastructure in schools. Only 56% of students rated the availability of digital equipment in their school as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, and only 44% had access to computers or tablets at school.
Vodafone Foundation had similar findings from the 21st Century Teachers’ Survey, published in October 2022. Based on responses from over 3,000 teachers across Europe, the survey found that 38% of teachers think their school is unprepared to support students’ digital literacy development, and 20% have little or no experience using digital technology in the classroom.
Vodafone Foundation addresses the digital skills gap
Vodafone Foundation is making great strides in tackling the digital divide to ensure that everyone is included in the digital world. Thanks to SkillsUpload Europe, students, educators, young people not in employment, and over-65s can now develop their digital skills, knowledge, and self-assurance. This positive effort brings us closer to a more connected and inclusive society.
SkillsUpload Jr (active in Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, and Spain) provides cutting-edge digital skills training and resources for teachers and students. A key driver is inclusive access, so the initiative purposefully targets underserved communities, such as girls and schools in rural and poorer areas. SkillsUpload Jr has reached more than six million teachers and students since 2017.
Hi Digital (active in the Czech Republic, Ireland, Netherlands, and Luxembourg) addresses social exclusion and loneliness among older generations by providing digital skills training for those over 65. From in-person training to free online courses on the basics of internet access, how to use online devices and safety online, the programme helps enhance daily life and combat isolation. More than 30,000 older people have accessed the training to date.
In support and celebration of the European Year of Skills, Vodafone remains steadfast in its commitment to sharing how technology can effectively combat the digital divide.