The European Commission (EC) Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE) – Digital Inclusion and Skills Scoreboard reports for 2013 have flagged some interesting concerns with potential to quite significantly impact broader EU digital aspirations.
And critically, the UK is singled out as a contender likely to be adversely affected alongside Germany and Italy.
eCulture, summarises UK progress on this scoreboard to date and explores the potential impact a skills gap could have.
Access to the full version of the EC report published is available at the end of this article.
Internet User and Usage Growth
The EC reports that the number of internet users in the population continues to increase, with 72% of the EU population reporting that they used the internet at least weekly in 2013.
More than half of the EU citizens (62%) reporting using the Internet daily in 2013. Use by disadvantaged people also continues to rise; with 57% reporting using the internet at least weekly in 2013. In both cases the rate represents a continuance of the ongoing upward trend since 2009.
Across Europe, rates of weekly internet use remain dispersed and the rankings of countries with the highest and lowest rates have changed very little over time.
In the UK, 80% of Internet users (including disadvantaged users) access the Internet at least weekly, a fairly respectable 8th place, ahead of Belgium, Germany, Austria, Estonia and France perhaps surprisingly in 14th place. The EU28 average ranks in at 16.
The highest rates of weekly internet use continue to be found in the Nordic countries, where rates are around 90% or more, with Iceland top of the league, followed by Norway, Luxemberg, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Finland.
At the other end of the scale, countries with the lowest rates of weekly internet use (Romania, Bulgaria, Italy and Turkey) is limited to around half of their respective populations.
Interestingly the report flags that convergence is taking place; with, generally speaking, larger annual increases in rates of weekly use of the internet in counties with the most catching up to do.
EC Digital Excluded
The report highlights that of those identified to be digitally excluded the biggest barriers were:
Not having a need for access (49%)
Lack of skills and ability (37%)
And cost, with equipment (30%) and access (26%)
Interestingly all of the three reasons have become increasingly significant over time, it is cost issues that have gained substantially in significance amongst households with children and those on low incomes.
However, the margin of improvement between 2012 and 2013 was just 2%, so this will have to be slightly improved upon going forward.
The biggest improvements were made in Croatia, Greece, Romania, Slovenia, Cyprus, Estonia and Italy, but it was noted that number of countries (Bulgaria, Portugal, Poland and Malta) with above average rates of non-users had struggled to make improvement since 2012.
Digital Inclusion and Skills Mix
The EC report adopts the newly constructed Digital Skills Indicator*, based on the Digital Competence Framework** (developed by DG EAC and IPTS on-going).
Across the EC the variation of skills ranges from 6% in Sweden with no digital skills to 50% in Romania. In ten countries (Malta, Lithuania, Portugal, Poland, Croatia, Cyprus, Italy, Hellenic Republic, Bulgaria and Romania) 30% or more of the population have no digital skills.
In four countries (Italy, Hellenic Republic, Bulgaria and Romania) rates are 40% or more. In Italy, with its large population, this equates to almost 18 million people without digital skills. In the worst cases Bulgaria (81%) and Romania (85%) most of the population does not have the digital skills they need.
Considering that to function effectively in the digital society one needs more than low level skills, almost half the EU population (47%) can be considered as insufficiently digitally skilled (having either low or no digital skills).***
The EU assessment of the UK Digital Skills rankings identifies approx.
11% of the population has no skill
31% low skills
27% have basic skills
31% are considered “Above Basic”
That means according to the EC standard described here, approx. 42% of the UK population has insufficient skills to function effectively in a digital society.
Disadvantaged people are defined as individuals belonging to at least one of the following three groups: aged 55-74, low educated or unemployed, retired or inactive.
In the EU28 38% of disadvantaged people have no digital skills at all.
In the UK approx. 24% of the population falling into the disadvantaged class have no skills, with a further 38% identified to have low skills, making if 62% of the disadvantaged population having insufficient skills to function effectively in a digital society.
Digital Skills Amongst The Workforce
Rates of digital skills for this category fare much better as expected, with rates on average higher than for the average population rates in the EU review earlier.
In respect of information communication and technology specialist employment across the EU on average growth in the specialist skilled population has grown 4% a year since 2000.
The UK increased its share of ICT specialist employment by 4.2% to position itself 3rd in the leaders group, behind Sweden 4.8%, Finland 4.7%.
Despite this growth since 2000 the report flags the employment potential of ICT remains underexploited, with evidence showing a growing gap emerging between supply and demand.
The report goes on the highlight that the largest ICT professional skills gap to be found in Germany, with forecasts suggesting that over the period up to 2020 the ICT professional skills gap will be severely aggravated in the UK and Italy in particular. This due insufficient production of ICT graduates to keep up with strong demand.
eCulture Conclusions for UK
Of key concern will be the fact that the UK has an emerging problem with the production of ICT skilled graduates, for which a call out for assistance from the private sector for help on resolving this issue.
This approach is shared across the EU, under a proposal for the private sector to support the formation of a “Grand Coalition for Digital Skills and Jobs”.
The skills gap issue has the potential to increase in severity as the government pushes ahead with development of eGovernment, success of which is highly dependent on availability of ICT skills.
As eGovernment is especially concerned with the digitally excluded, the being for the most part primary users of government managed services such as health, social care and benefits, set to be transitioned to digital engagement models.
The digitally excluded will need assistance to become engaged, likely adding to the increase in demand for ICT skilled specialists, especially in education and training in particular.
With austerity still very much a focus in the private sector as well as the public sector, there has to be a concern that if not sufficient support and assistance is secure to address the growing ICT skills gap, a much broader and negative impact is going to be felt across other programmes of work designed to increased our capabilities to contribute and compete in an eCulture orientated world.
** Ferrari, A. (2013), DIGCOMP: A Framework for Developing and Understanding Digital Competence in Europe, JRC Scientific and Policy Reports.
*** To be classified as “Low Skilled” an individual has to have carried out activities from only one of the four Digital Competence domains included in the index (information, communication, content-creation and problem-solving). To have “Basic Skills”, an individual has to have basic in at least one domain. To be classified “Above Basic” the individual has to score above basic in each of the four domains.