A New Year’s Resolution for Advancing Digital Skills Education

This year, youth employment, skills and entrepreneurship have all been a focus for Europe’s policymakers. The inclusion of digital skills within the European Commission’s flagship Digital Single Market Strategy set the ball rolling in May: the third pillar of the long-awaited initiative pledged to “support an inclusive digital society where citizens have the right skills to seize the opportunities of the Internet and boost their chances of getting a job”.

The push to encourage Europe’s future workers to acquire digital skills is not just the flavor of the month. Europe’s leaders are quickly coming to terms with the fact that, as MEP Eva Paunova recently put it, e-skills and digital literacy will be “defining competencies of tomorrow’s labor market”. If Europe’s digital economy is to grow to its full potential, these are competencies that everyone will need to master. Already, 9 out of every 10 jobs require basic digital skills. And the often-quoted prediction of 825,000 unfilled ICT vacancies by 2020 shows the urgent need to address the deficit.

Fortunately, the message is getting through. In October, Microsoft’s European YouthSpark partner CoderDojo hosted the #EUDojo event at the European Parliament, where young coders gave parliamentarians a taste of the tech skills that will shape the continent’s future. MEPs from all parties and backgrounds seized the chance to get involved, with MEP Julia Reda highlighting how encouraging it was to see young people creating technology, rather than simply consuming it.

The EU Dojo was a prelude to the 3rd edition of Europe Code Week, which has now spread to almost 50 countries worldwide, with hundreds of thousands of young people trying their hand at coding. And last week saw yet another successful chapter of the global Hour of Code, which we marked with the launch of a brand new Minecraft coding tutorial that aims to spark children’s creativity in a fun, collaborative way.

However, there is still more fundamental work to be done. Within the EU, access to computer science education varies wildly from country to country. This needs to change. Every student deserves to be equipped with the necessary skills for success from an early age. How to get there is the focus of today’s eSkills for jobs event in Luxembourg, which aims to discuss ways to accelerate Europe’s digital transformation and supply of ICT skills.

Part of that is to start thinking differently about how we encourage young people to see a future in computer science. Despite the growing number of vacancies requiring digital skills, the number of ICT university graduates is in fact falling. It’s time to recognize that the right talent doesn’t always come via traditional routes.

At Microsoft we’ve developed partnership apprenticeship schemes in countries like Germany and the UK, supporting the recruitment, education and training of young people aiming to become qualified and certified IT professionals. In the last five years, over 7,000 apprentices have started their careers in this way, within over 5,000 Microsoft partners and customers. You can read more about what’s involved in being a Microsoft apprentice from 19-year Megan, who’s shared her experience here.

As we look forward to 2016, I’m encouraged. The European Commission’s plan for a New Skills Agenda for Europe aiming to reap the full potential of digital jobs bodes well. But policymakers must be bold and stick to their plans, not only to promote the development of digital skills, but also to recognize the value of vocational and entrepreneurship training. This will give Europe access to as broad an array of talent as possible. Continuing to unite our efforts towards advancing youth prospects in the year to come should be our New Year’s resolution. It will put Europe on the right path to boost the competitive edge it needs in the digital age.


Sylvie Laffarge
Director Philanthropies Europe

Sylvie Laffarge is Director of Philanthropies Europe. She joined Microsoft in 2006 and currently leads Microsoft's YouthSpark and Technology for Good efforts across Europe, driving alignment with European public policy priorities around issues related to youth, employment, digital skills, entrepreneurship, and CSR. Launched in 2012, Microsoft YouthSpark is a global, company-wide initiative designed to create opportunities for three hundred million youth around the world. Through partnerships with governments, nonprofits and businesses, its aim is to empower youth to imagine and realize their full potential by connecting them with greater education, employment, and entrepreneurship opportunities. Sylvie previously held leadership and external representation roles in numerous CSR, ICT policy and trade associations and non-profits in Brussels, on the subject of youth employment, ICT and skills. Prior to joining Microsoft she led the corporate community relations office for The Walt Disney Company. She pioneered Disney's community affairs strategy in Europe and was instrumental during her 17 year tenure in developing the company's strong socially responsible profile. Sylvie Laffarge brought relevance to Disney's donation portfolio and initiated signature programs such as Disney's Compassionate Program, Disney VoluntEARS and the DisneyHand effort in Europe. Sylvie Laffarge is a graduate and post-graduate of the University of La Sorbonne in Paris.