Commissioner for Digital Economy Günther Oettinger keynoted the “Digital Single Market: Bridging the gap” event organized on May 3rd by the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. Here are 4 highlights from his speech you need to be aware of.
Still lagging behind…
Europe has a number of competences and success stories in the tech sector, but it is still lagging far behind. Take creative online platforms, applications, social networks, new services: Almost nothing of these comes from Europe. The continent is not really in a good shape. We have to reverse this situation.
Digital Single Market now
Since decades we have created a common European market in a wide spectrum of sectors, giving a clear advantage to our industries in the context of the biggest market in world. There is no argument whatsoever against enlarging the benefits of the common market to the digital sector. Such benefits are expected to be much bigger if one looks to the markets of Europe’s associated partners such as Ukraine or Turkey. Fixing the regulatory fragmentation is the key issue: we do not need 28 national silos. In this respect, the general data protection regulation adopted a few months ago is the example to be followed.
A gigabyte society
The Digital Single Market cannot come reality without adequate infrastructures. Europe must aim for a gigabyte society if it does not want to fail. In order to make the most of booming sectors such as development of Internet of Things, machine-to-machine, or e–health, Europe cannot keep leveraging on 30 Mbps or 100 Mbps forever. It should start thinking of networks capable of reaching speeds of 500mbps or higher.
Europe is still grappling with two types of digital divide. The first concerns the connectivity gap between rural and metropolitan areas, which in turn requires more comprehensive investment strategies in digital infrastructures. The second lies between European citizens with digital skills and those who lack technological education. Member states should give more priority to the digital education of their citizens: the European Commission will step up its efforts to help them set up related policies on digital skills.
Beside Mr Oettinger, the conference "Digital Single Market: Bridging the Gap" featured keynote speeches from Juhan Lepassaar, Head of Cabinet to Andrus Ansip, and Robert Madelin (EPSC). Other speakers included senior EU officials, parliamentarians, trade bodies and business leaders who discussed the future challenges for business in the areas of fintech, e-health and industry 4.0.
Picture credits: Sergiu Bacioiu
The European Parliament is overwhelmingly supporting the European Commission’s plans to complete the Digital Single Market: it is now of utmost importance to act quickly, especially in areas such as frequencies harmonization, says Austrian MEP Paul Rübig. Member states, he argues, should not drag their feet. In the face of the dramatic increase of data usage or the predicted explosion of IoT technologies, if we do not forge an efficient, future-oriented digital single market, we are doomed to loose competitiveness. In order to prevent this scenario, we must also focus on addressing the shortfall in e-skills among Europeans and help SMEs embrace digital technology, concludes Mr. Rübig.
If Europe aspires to recover its global competitiveness becoming a truly innovative, knowledge-based economy, and aspires to grow by consolidating a digital single market, it needs not only to change legal frameworks and business paradigms. One essential element of the equation remains the digital education and skills of its population, without which there would not be suitable workers, potential consumers or smarter citizens.
Not only economic interactions but also other spheres of our daily life are increasingly mediated by new technologies, whether we are communicating with friends or making a bank transaction, looking for a job or studying.
While Internet access is progressively available even in the most remote areas of Europe and devices like smart phones and tablets are each time more affordable, a good number of Europeans remains digitally isolated.
Either because they do not perceive its value or have not the right skills. Today digital participation depends largely more on competences than on access to and use of technologies.
The lack of digital competence of a large part of the EU population has dramatic repercussions on their employability perspective. Regardless of overall high unemployment rates, in areas like ICT paradoxically the job offer exceeds the demand and the gap is widening, while it is expected that 90% of jobs in the near future will require ICT skills of some level.
There is a pressing need to develop the digital component of “new skills for new jobs” in the European labour market.
Despite the long record of policy developments in the field since at least 2002, reducing skills mismatches and preparing the population to face the challenges of an ever-increasing adoption of technologies in everyday life are still two urgent challenges that require pressing and focused policy action and endorsement.
The focus on digital competence in formal schooling is recent and still insufficient. The importance of learning about digital competence in non-formal and informal settings becomes a central aspect of education of the EU population with an employability perspective.
However, formal validation and recognition of competences acquired in such ways remains an issue for job-seekers (whether unemployed or already active in the job market) to be able to demonstrate to prospective and new employers their competence portfolio.
This validation and recognition was until recently provided mainly by the ICT industry and was of operational nature (product-based).
It is nowadays necessary to adopt a transversal model, widely recognised by key stakeholders, which takes stock of digital competence richness.
Somehow like the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages already did in its domain, standardising and leveraging the training supply.
A common European framework that allows a shared understanding of the meaning and implications of digital competence and that presents its components and levels of proficiency might ease comparability across Europe and the alignment and harmonisation of training offers.
Not one but three frameworks hat touch upon digital competence have been developed recently at the request of the European Commission – the eCompetence Framework for ICT professionals; the eCompetence framework for end users; the DIGCOMP framework.
While eCF is becoming increasingly the referent framework for ICT professionals and shall then be used in the context of ICT-related jobs, in the case of non-ICT professionals the picture is less clear and somehow confusing.
The eCompetence framework for end users is a framework that explains in a granular way five areas of digital competence, namely: Word Processing, Spreadsheets, Presentation, Communications, Web Browsing and Information Search.
For each area, a series of competences is developed and explained along three proficiency levels. This framework was developed to allow ICT users to describe and develop their capabilities and specifically to allow employers to identify which individuals possess the skills and abilities they require.
DIGCOMP is a competence framework developed for all citizens comprising 21 competences divided in 5 areas and including for each competence a description of three proficiency levels.
The DIGCOMP framework aim is to provide an exhaustive view of digital competence, so that various initiatives could be mapped onto its matrix. It recognises that initiatives, programmes, and certifications do not need to cover all 21 competences.
The DIGCOMP five competence areas are Information, Communication, Content-creation, Safety and Problem-solving.
In my view, this framework is currently the most adaptable tool to the needs of a diversified population looking for employment opportunities, and could be used as the main referent to develop the transversal component of digital competences that are necessary for a variety of job profiles, while the eCF for end users can be adopted when more operational skills are required.
But is highly desirable that the two become just one unique, richer framework that, like with languages, becomes a standard of the ICT training industry.
In conclusion, given the current economic crises, and given the premises of skills and vacancies mismatching, given the rising digitalisation of society which is not followed by a higher digital competence level of the population, as key stakeholders and players in this field we propose the following measures with the scope of nurturing digital skills for employability:
the endorsement of a unique, common reference framework of digital competence to create a shared language and understanding between education and employability and among different initiative for fostering digital competences. The existing frameworks can evolve and converge to better reflect the competence requirements of individuals and organisation
the creation of support material and sharing of good practices to facilitate the implementation of such a framework (with the creation of guidelines and of examples of job profiles to be mapped against it)
the recognition of digital competence as an ability that goes beyond operational skills and that support several aspects of everyday life
the promotion of the recognition of competences acquired in non-formal and informal settings, as the vast majority of the population did not receive a formal education on digital competence, and those who have might need to update their knowledge and skills.
 CEN, e-Competence framework for end users, p. 9. http://j.mp/1FUI68k
 Ferrari, A. (2013). DIGCOMP: A Framework for Developing and Understanding Digital Competence in Europe. Seville: IPTS. http://j.mp/1FpCGP5
An explanatory brochure is available here: http://j.mp/17vkJn2