Tackling the future of digital skills

Monday 18 December 2017

As trade unions, we see a clear need to tackle digital skill needs. Technology as well as jobs are changing rapidly. We need to ensure that workers and companies remain up-to-date. For employers and trade unions, the social partners, anticipation of skill needs and re-training is one of the most important tasks, especially today in a digitalising economy. Indeed, social dialogue and collective bargaining, with the resulting networks of trade unions and business, are already today the most elaborate infrastructure for training. These need to be employed to progress the digital skills agenda.

Digital skill needs affect almost all workers today. In media and cultural professions many “back office” tasks have been digitalised. In shops, traditional tasks are linked up with e-commerce requirements. And industrial cleaners, too, are affected by the use of digitalised equipment.

We need to create a digital environment where workers are not the simple extension of a machine, but are empowered by digitalisation to work more effectively and reduces health and other risks.

The principle task of social partners is to shape work itself as they are the closest to the workplace. They are therefore in a unique position to address digital skill needs. Key to this is to integrate training into the day-to-day job of workers on a continuous basis. This is not only a technical exercise, it also requires making training needs transparent for companies and workers and also actually creating conditions where this is possible. We won’t be successful if training puts an additional burden on workers who are struggling with work-life balance already.

Concretely, for the way forward UNI Europa seeks clarification from governments and the EU on how training and re-training should be financed. For us, it is clear that it cannot be a matter for workers, whether employed or self-employed. It should be a genuine task of governments and business together, and for this, we need legislation.

We also want to see support for social dialogue. The European Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition is therefore looking at linking up its activities with those of social partners at national levels. Similarly, we should bring together the coalition and European social dialogue committee to exchange experiences in terms of digital skills and retraining. Already now, we have substantial results from the work of European social dialogue and many projects are underway.

Social partners need to play a key role regarding the digital skills agenda. They bring in the side of those who actually need to apply digital skills. Too often, the discussion still focuses on the supply side of educational and training institutions and providers. The workplace, business and workers, should not be objects. They need to become empowered subjects to address digital skills needs for the benefit of everyone, our societies and our global competitiveness.

Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary

Oliver Roethig has been appointed to the governing board of the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition. The Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition brings together Member States, companies, social partners, non-profit organisations and education providers, who take action to tackle the lack of digital skills in Europe. The first meeting took place on 28th September and the key themes for the coalition’s work are addressing digital skills in the labour force, IT professionals, education and civil society. The annual conference of the Coalition was held on 7th December, where Commissioner Mariya Gabriel launched the Digital Opportunity traineeships scheme, a pilot project giving students and recent graduates an opportunity to get hands-on training in digital fields such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, coding or digital marketing. An information video can be watched here.