With Europe facing its worst economic crisis in seven decades, it is increasingly clear that for the continent’s recovery from COVID-19 to succeed, it needs to be digital, green and inclusive. As the EU’s ambitious Next Generation EU recovery plan points out, this will only be possible if we have a workforce equipped with relevant digital skills. We therefore strongly welcome today’s announcement of an updated European Skills Agenda and Youth Employment Support package, both of which place upskilling and reskilling EU citizens at the heart of the policy agenda. At Microsoft we support these efforts, having announced a new company-wide skills initiative yesterday.
Unemployment in Europe has increased significantly as a result of the pandemic. In April alone, almost 400,000 people lost their jobs, and the EU’s unemployment rate jumped to 6.6 percent. The risk of unemployment is particularly acute among young people: in April, the youth unemployment rate in the EU was 15.4 percent, having increased over one percent compared with March. Ensuring that young people can access skills training and resources to get them back into employment is vital to prevent a ‘lost generation’.
But it isn’t just young people who need support right now. As I noted in my last blog, the crisis has accelerated the pace of digital transformation for organizations of all shapes and sizes. It has also highlighted a worrying divide between those with the skills to succeed in the new world of work, and those without. Despite the ubiquitous presence of technology in all our lives, in 2019, 42% of European citizens did not have at least basic digital skills, and according to a World Economic Forum assessment, 52% of European workers are in need of reskilling – a increase of 10 percentage points in less than a year. These are major barriers in today’s labor market, regardless of sector or industry.
The European Commission’s proposals aim to ensure that everyone, regardless of background, age or location, can avail of the right to training and lifelong learning. The days of having one job for forty years are over, but many countries have not yet adjusted to this reality. This creates a worrying disconnect between education and work. To bridge this gap, all governments must take a close look at their training systems to ensure they meet evolving labor market needs.
But closing the skills gap for citizens of all ages and backgrounds is a major challenge, and not one that governments can do alone. Civil society organizations, educators, employers and industry need to be closely involved. We are particularly excited about the Commission’s proposal for a new ‘Pact for Skills’, which will mobilize stakeholders of all kinds to create more and better opportunities for people to train. As a technology company, Microsoft recognizes the important role we have to play in this regard. The skills initiative launched yesterday brings together every part of our company, combining existing and new resources from LinkedIn, GitHub, and Microsoft. Our goal is to bring more digital skills to 25 million people worldwide by the end of the year.
Our announcement is the latest milestone in a long-standing commitment to supporting EU and national policymakers’ efforts to prepare Europeans for the future. The Commission’s package of proposals unveiled today rightly places a renewed focus upon vocational skills and lifelong learning, as well as support for young people – and we are ready to do our part.
We know it won’t happen overnight, but that is not an excuse to wait. The need to invest in and deliver on the skills agenda is clear, and has in my view never been more important. Microsoft stands ready to bring the best of our technology and expertise to the table alongside the important efforts of many other stakeholders, to help Europeans emerge from this current crisis stronger and better equipped than before. Upgrading digital skills in a post-COVID-19 world is urgently needed, and it is a responsibility to be shared by the public and the private sector.