On October 9th, EIF hosted a debate on the “Future of Work” chaired by Pilar del Castillo MEP and EIF Chair, with the participation of Elzbieta Bienkowska, EU Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs as keynote speaker.
MEP del Castillo kicked off the discussion by highlighting Europe’s competitiveness in the global industrial sector, especially in manufacturing which represents 80% of the EU’s exports and a major share of investment in EU R&D. She continued by explaining that the Internal Market was one of the keystones of the European Union, being indispensable for the Union’s global competitiveness. From a digital perspective, the only way to face all the global challenges is to be part of a big unit: “we have the fortune of having a market of 500m people, giving us the possibility to develop the economies of scale needed for facing the challenges and opportunity of the digital transformation. “
Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska then took the floor and started her speech by observing the fast pace at which the ‘4th industrial revolution’ is taking place and added that that EU must have a visionary approach to it, by trying to foresee and come up with solutions to future challenges: “We must not fear technological advancements, we must treat them as an opportunity because the 4th industrial revolution will improve people’s lives.”
Ms Bienkowska added that the way in which people work will change as well: new business models and employer-employee relations. In addition to IT skills, the most demanded skillset will comprise: social, analytical and creative. The importance of setting up the right regulatory framework is primordial for instance when it comes to Data Protection. The Commissioner also addressed the issue of automation, that it is still quite early to evaluate the extent of which tasks that are currently performed by humans will be replaced by machines in the future. However, the fear of employers that they will not be able to recruit people with necessary qualifications, with new skills is the number one challenge that European companies will be facing.
In 2017, the Commission adopted the Industrial Policy Strategy aiming to help the industry to make the transition towards a digitalized, low-carbon economy. Under this umbrella, a few initiatives were launched and Ms Bienkowska offered a few examples:
-the Strategic Forum for Important Projects of Common European Interest - in order to identify and strengthen the value chain of strategic importance such as the production of batteries, where the EU is lagging behind;
-Digital Innovation Hubs;
-Smart Specialization Platform on Industrial Modernization.
Completely new business models are appearing and therefore there is need for the guidelines to be updated as well. Not even the ones that were acceptable two years ago are not really up to date nowadays. “We need to continuously up-skill, re-skill our workforce and make lifelong learning a reality.”
Commissioner Bienkowska brought to the table an action that the European Commission has taken under the new Skills Agenda for Europe, published in 2016, which has trained over 7 million people in coding: the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition. Other similar examples are: the Digital Education Action Plan and the Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation of Skills.
In conclusion, Elzbieta Bienkowska reiterated the importance of treating the current changing times as an opportunity for Europe to lead, to lay the groundwork for more and better jobs, as “the Future of Work will be designed by people”.