Technology adoption is a driver of inclusive growth. It helps people upskill and firms become more productive. As more organizations embrace digital transformation, it is often the result of deliberate choices. This starts with investing in current and future workers and businesses to prepare them to go digital, as the World Bank finds in its report about the relationship between technology adoption and equality of opportunity in the European Union.
Today, too many Europeans lack the skills to prepare them for a technology-rich future of work. About 900,000 digital jobs in the EU are forecasted to remain vacant by 2020, and 40% of European employers cannot find sufficiently skilled people to adopt technology and spearhead innovation. Similarly, only one in five small or medium-sized businesses are sufficiently digitized in Europe. As a result, the gap between technology laggards and digitally savvy firms is widening.
This raises some important questions: How can European workers and firms become empowered to shape the future of work to their advantage? How can technology adoption even the playing field for economic growth?
AWS Institute Polls the Experts
At this year’s AWS Public Sector Summit in Brussels, AWS Institute launched a Europe, Middle East, and Africa program to address these and other questions. Here are five takeaways from their dialogue of experts and practitioners:
- Leadership can drive (or stifle) innovation. Artificial intelligence and machine learning can make organizations smarter when leaders support a culture of experimentation. Research shows that adoption of technology is closely linked to managers’ capacity to shift the organizational structure. Setting a clear objective with metrics to assess learnings while encouraging flexibility and creativity to test new ideas is key, according to the participants.
- Digital skills are as much about questioning as they are about coding. The cloud’s applications and analytics are accessible to a wide audience with diverse technical aptitude. For one, it calls for an ability to ask questions of your data – something many business leaders can do without a technical degree. While a growing number of management and business schools are integrating analytics and data science into their curricula, some of the most in-demand skillsets are frequently not accredited. Despite soft skills being the area where demand is growing most rapidly, this is not always reflected in curricula. Oley Dibba-Wadda, Executive Secretary of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa, said, “In the classroom, students are learning to pass exams. When they graduate, they have a certificate but they cannot find jobs. We need to teach skills in public speaking, in self-confidence, in reading and writing – skills to explore.”
- Technology can provide infrastructure to equalize access to opportunity. With educational outcomes traditionally lower in rural areas, it’s no surprise that access to digital technology and quality educators are also in low supply. The experts examined whether the cloud can help address this inequality by equipping teachers and students in these areas with digital educational tools. They also considered how the cloud’s virtual reach can provide digital curricula, libraries, and learning tools to even more remote areas. Technology adoption can be a powerful starting point for equality in education, just as in businesses.
- Technology adoption will most benefit those sectors that are embracing it the least. Take the food sector: the European Commission’s FUSIONS project estimated that the EU produces about 88 million tons of food waste annually. This amounts to about €143 billion, of which 30% is lost during production due to overproduction or diminishing productivity. Using technology to optimize these processes can result in GDP-size savings that can be transferred back to citizens, according to the participants. The scale of industries such as agriculture and construction – both in terms of contribution to GDP and national employment – suggests that a lack of technology adoption could result in significant economic losses.
- Shaping the future of work is a public-private job. The roundtable discussion concluded that the long-term challenge of creating a resilient workforce for an ever-changing workplace is something that no actor is equipped to tackle alone. It will require new forms of public-private collaboration. If private companies are better providers of digital skills than educational institutions as they stand, then legislation has to enable and incentivize private investment in large-scale training that creates market-ready talent. One way is to upgrade the accreditation system to include new skills.