The future is not jobless, but it will be learning-intensive

Digital think-tank Top of Digital Europe – an independent, non-profit initiative co-led by the Baltic Development Forum and Microsoft – recently published its State of the Digital Region 2017 report. This year’s edition, “Exploring Automation, Education and Learning in the Baltic Sea Region” calls for reforms to institutions and education systems to capitalize on the digital economy.

The report is the most comprehensive overview of how countries in the Baltic Sea Region (BSR), often considered digital frontrunners, are performing when it comes to the digital economy, and how they can remain in the lead.

Automation requires adaptability at all levels

This year’s focus on automation, education and learning looks at the ‘learning shift’ demanded by the digital economy which is imperative for the BSR.

The report argues that this shift is driven by exponential technological change, growing uncertainty about the future of work, and increasing flexibility from employees, employers and policymakers. It is a world which is changing faster, but in less predictable ways.

With a focus on adaptability and learning, Baltic Sea countries can develop policy frameworks to capitalize on the changing dynamics of the digitized economy. Such frameworks would be further strengthened through regional cooperation aligning and supporting skills and learning requirements. The main policy recommendations from the report highlight the need for:

      • An Education Testbed: A joint initiative across BSR countries to co-ordinate national approaches across the region with the purpose of reinventing education, from elementary school to on-the-job training to meet future workforce demands.
      • Education Institutions Fit for the Digitized Learning Economy: A change in institutional frameworks for education to provide individuals with lifelong learning opportunities that better match the speed of change and future labor market skills.
      • Openness of Economies for the “New World of Work”: An adaptation of labor market policy and regulation to incentivize businesses and entrepreneurs that offer new and innovative jobs, work models, and skills.

State of the Digital Region

The development of BSR countries according to a selected set of core indicators suggests that the region may have reached an impasse. The development has been summarized in a “gap size” graph, showing a ranking of gaps within the BSR and the ranking of countries for each gap indicator.

Some conclusions are consistent with reports from previous years. Even though Poland is lagging behind, it still makes an important contribution due to its sheer market size. The Nordics lead on many issues but are lacking development. “Lagging ahead” – the phrase used in last year’s report – still applies in this region. Estonia is showing strong signs of development and is closing in on the Nordics on several indicators, moving ahead of other Baltic countries.

Overall, the most striking takeaway is that relatively little has changed over the last year, and that the pace of transformation has slowed. This is concerning, considering the rapid pace of digital transformation and the digital development gap which remains to be bridged. When it comes to digitization, the BSR countries have the power to set an inspirational example to the whole of the EU. But to deliver on this promise, there is an urgent need to enable greater regional collaboration. Only then can we move from grand visions to concrete action and impact.

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