23 Jan 2020

A trillion euros for green growth is a great start, but without proper investment in skills the job is only half done

Last week the Commission announced its one trillion-euro plan to pay for the ‘Green Deal’. Digital is central to all these plans. But green innovation, artificial intelligence (AI) and the growth of digitally enabled green companies needs one extra ingredient to make it work. Over half of European workers must upgrade their IT skills in the next five years, or else the EU’s lofty green ambitions will not come to fruition. This needs proper investment, from both the EU and our Member States – something to think about as the European budget negotiations continue this year.

By Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, Director General of DIGITALEUROPE


The Green Deal initiative was first put forward in December last year and aims to make Europe the world leader on the climate. It is both ambitious and visionary and the new Commission should be applauded. One trillion euros is a huge sum, and one that is difficult to get your head around. That is more than ten times the Danish national budget for a single year. The money comes from a mixture of EU funds, member states and the European Investment Bank.

In terms of sustainability, by digitising our economy we can save over 12 gigatons of CO2 by 2030. This is because digitisation drives energy efficiency, for example through intelligent power grids or using connected vehicles to optimise the way we move around.

But how are we going to get there? And more specifically, who is going to actually do the necessary work? Surveys show that 54% of European workers need to develop digital skills to match the jobs of the future! Are our kids ready for green tech jobs? Is our own generation ready? If not, a trillion euros is not worth the paper it is printed on.

Let’s take a few key figures:


of European workers need to develop digital skills to match the jobs of the future

Despite a historically low unemployment rate in Europe – down to 6.3% in October – there are still countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy that are struggling with unemployment rates of over 10%. In some regions this reaches up to 30%. For young people the figures are typically higher.

But there is a paradox, because at the same time we know that European companies complain that they are lacking almost one million employees with the right skills. These are the kinds of firms that will deliver the green solutions of the future.

It is despairing to think of all the talented, sustainable, well-functioning companies in Europe that are hampered by not being able to get the employees they need.

And it certainly does not improve the mood when you consider the implications for European social development. If Europeans do not have the right skills, they run the risk of being left behind. In 2017, 43% of Europeans did not even have basic digital skills, and suddenly we are not just talking about growth and the labour market, but also about the opportunity for citizens to participate in democracy. This isn’t just a problem for the citizen themselves, but for the whole of Europe.


of Europeans did not have basic digital skills in 2017

We need all kinds of digital competencies to succeed: from the IT professional who fixes the network, the help desk employee who solves people’s problems, to the architect who designs complicated AI applications. In our experience, one of the most effective ways of training them is to bring companies into the process; the job market knows very well what type of robot programming or machine learning approach it needs. But there is a problem – in 2017, only one in five companies spent resources on upgrading staff IT skills.

Smaller companies are especially lagging. Because while the largest companies have a strong tradition of standardised training and training programmes for their employees, this can be a heavy burden on the stretched budgets of SMEs. Smaller companies want to help Europe achieve its green goals, but they need help in order to do it. This is where the EU and our governments can play an important role. Smaller companies must be given a sound financial incentive to offer their employees lifelong learning possibilities.

More generally, DIGITALEUROPE has put forward several recommendations that would make European funding more effective, including more flexible state aid rules, and by looking for synergies between different funding streams. This will help companies both big and small.

Recommendations: EU funding for digital skills in the EU budget 2021-2027

We also need to look at higher education. In the last decade 20 EU countries have incorporated digital skills as part of mainstream school-age education. However, this has not happened to the same extent at the university level. Why not? We need to get our universities aligned with the digital sector in order to boost our green growth potential.

But ultimately, as with many things in life it all comes down to money. The next long-term EU budget will kick in next year and over the next few months different actors in Europe are battling it out to decide what stays in and what gets cut.

Dear European leaders: one trillion euros of Green investment is good – but the mission is only half complete. Digital is the great enabler of the Green Deal. But without investments in digital skills our climate ambitions cannot be met. For all the good words we have heard, you need to put your money where your mouth is.

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