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1st Jul 2022

Digital gap: 42% of EU citizens lack basic digital skills

  • “The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated how crucial it is for citizens and businesses to be connected and to be able to interact with each other online,” said the commission vice-president Margrethe Vestager

The European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen made the EU's digital transformation one of the cornerstones of the bloc's recovery strategy post-coronavirus crisis.

While there is a growing need to invest in emerging technologies that shape the modern economy, such as artificial intelligence or robotics, there is still a significant gap concerning basic digital skills.

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  • The majority of young people (82 percent) between 16 and 24-years old have at least basic digital skills, while only one-third of those aged 55-74, and those who are retired, possess these skills (Photo: Tom Rydquist)

In 2019, nearly half of the EU population (42 percent) was unable to perform basic tasks such as connect to the wi-fi network or use websites, according to a new report published by the European Commission on Thursday (11 June).

However, the EU estimates that nine-out-of-10 future jobs will require digital skills.

The situation is improving only slowly, since 46 percent of the EU's population were lacking basic digital skills in 2015.

The Covid-19 pandemic and its related lockdown restrictions have shown how digital skills were particularly important to staff in the healthcare system, public servants, students and teachers - but also for all of those who suddenly were forced to telework and use new online tools daily.

"The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated how crucial it is for citizens and businesses to be connected and to be able to interact with each other online," the commission vice-president, Margrethe Vestager said, adding that the EU will work on finding the areas where investment is more needed to close the digital gap.

There are notable differences among member states and demographic groups.

The Netherlands and Finland are the frontrunners of digital skills in the EU, while Bulgaria and Romania are lagging.

Likewise, the report indicates that the majority of young people (82 percent) between 16 and 24-years old have at least basic digital skills, while only one-third of those aged 55-74, and those who are retired, possess these skills.

Meanwhile, there remains a shortage of IT specialists on the labour market in the EU - where the so-called 'value-added' of this sector was €680bn in 2017.

During 2018, over half of the enterprises that recruited or tried to recruit IT specialists reported difficulties in filling such vacancies, especially in Romania and the Czech Republic.

Experts estimate that the 'digital skills gap' amounts to one million missing IT professionals in Europe.

The share of IT specialists is slowly improving across the bloc. In 2018, about 9.1m people worked as IT specialists in the EU - with the highest number of employees being in the UK, Germany and France.

Women

Additionally, the commission's new report also reveals that only one-in-six ICT specialists are female.

The European Institute for Gender Equality previously said that redressing the gender imbalance in the IT sector would reduce "the persistent gender-based pay gap across the EU" since women could access more highly-paid jobs than those in traditionally female sectors.

EU ministers for employment on Monday (8 June) urged the commission to reinforce and update its 'Skills Agenda for Europe' to support member states to increase upskilling and reskilling opportunities, with a focus on digital skills.

Education in coronavirus times: trial and error

Most EU countries are organising distance e-learning to support students amid the coronavirus pandemic, but skills and opportunities are not the same among member states.

Analysis

First 100 days: Digital and Green Deal policies hit by crises

The first 100 days of Ursula von der Leyen's commission were supposed to be about the digital and environmental transitions. However, that agenda has been hit by first the coronavirus, and now the Greek border situation.

New warning on virus apps' digital privacy safeguards

Authorities have already released or plan to roll out contact-tracing apps across the EU. However, the coronavirus pandemic has brought into focus the risks of these surveillance technologies - and their potential negative impact on human rights.

MEPs push for limited 'right-to-repair' on consumer devices

The MEPs's report asked the EU Commission to "consider" labelling products and services according to their durability and estimated lifespan - but only to examine so-called "planned obsolescence." The parliament plenary will vote in November.

MEPs boycott awards over controversial sponsorship

Two MEPs have withdrawn their nominations from the MEPs Awards over the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis's participation as a sponsor — currently involved in an alleged bribery scandal in Greece.

Opinion

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Bulgaria's target date for joining the eurozone, 1 January 2024, seems elusive. The collapse of Kiril Petkov's government, likely fresh elections, with populists trying to score cheap points against the 'diktat of the eurocrats', might well delay accession.

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