Europe’s future lies in the cloud, which has the potential to transform almost every aspect of our lives. But ensuring everyone has the right digital skills to succeed in this new, cloud-based world is no mean feat, and it is certainly an objective far beyond the reach of any one actor. Bringing digital literacy to every European is going to take efforts from all of us, public and private stakeholders alike.
Speeding up joint progress on this vital issue is a key objective for the upcoming eSkills for Jobs 2016 High-level Conference taking place in Bratislava on 17 and 18 October. And it is no coincidence that this event, which aims to consider how a more inclusive talent pool can be trained on digital skills to enable Europe’s wider digital transformation, coincides with the fourth edition of Europe Code Week, the European Commission-led initiative to get kids of all ages coding.
Last year, over half a million people took part in Code Week events across the continent – and this year’s edition looks set to be bigger and better than ever. Once again, Microsoft will be an active supporter giving youth more exposure to the skills required for the future world of work, hosting over 20 events in 16 European countries. If we want to ensure that no one is left behind by the rapid pace of technological change, we need to inspire further learning. Simply put, digital literacy and next generation skills must be front and center of our efforts to create an inclusive cloud that allows everyone – regardless of age, ability, gender, ethnicity, location, or economic status – to seize the opportunities of emerging technologies.
The popularity of Code Week is testament to a more widespread recognition of the importance of digital literacy, as well as a growing sense of urgency. 19 EU countries have already integrated or plan to integrate coding into their curricula. But more progress is needed if we are to make an impact on current and future generations of students and employees.
Earlier this year the European Commission adopted a New Skills Agenda for Europe. It recognizes the current mismatch between the skills employers need and those job-seekers have – 40% of European employers struggle to recruit employees with the right skills – and sets out to tackle it by establishing, among other things, a minimum level of digital skills for all jobseekers.
The success of all these initiatives will depend on close cooperation between all actors, including industry. We’ve reiterated on several occasions our own commitment to taking concrete measures which ensure students have access to computer science education. But we think more can be done and will aim to put that in motion as a leader of the European Pact4Youth.
Firstly, it is essential that digital literacy be made accessible to all, without exception. Otherwise we risk inadvertently excluding people from future opportunities. And this is not limited to computer science classes. With the right devices or tools, as well as supportive training for teachers and parents, digital skills can be embraced across the broader curriculum.
We also think that industry can provide valuable input and expertise when it comes to the design of computer science curricula, so that what is being taught in the classroom matches what is needed in the labor market. For instance, in the UK, Microsoft contributed to the design of the new compulsory computer science curriculum which has now been in place for over a year.
We also need to encourage greater transparency around digital skills requirements, as well as mutual recognition of digital training and skills across countries and curricula. This is the only way we can ensure the benefits of Europe’s digital transformation are felt by all.
Last but not least, we need an increased focus on encouraging women and girls to pursue careers in technology. It is a sad fact that even today, women represent just 30% of Europe’s ICT workforce. Microsoft is actively engaged in promoting women in digital domains, with initiatives such as DigiGirlz or #MakeWhatsNext focused not only on equipping them with the right skills, but also on busting myths about what women can achieve in the world of STEM.
We know that change will not happen overnight. In the meantime, informal education initiatives have a vital role to play while we work towards curricula reform. As in previous years, we will be supporting our long-term partner CoderDojo, in bringing 40 talented young coders to the European Parliament for the EU Dojo on 18 October. And we are bringing that same “hands-on” spirit to our own offices, with an open-house coding event for kids on 19 October.
The reason for this activity is simple: Europe is at a crossroads. Cloud-based technologies can transform our lives for the better. But it is important to recognize that the cloud can also have a disruptive impact on society. That is why we need to ensure that technology moves forward without leaving people behind. We want to help create an inclusive digital future where digital skills are the currency of success for the many, not the few.