Bridging the 'skills gap' for a bioeconomy in Europe
A well trained workforce is vital to develop the bioeconomy but there is growing evidence of a "skills gap", with people lacking in specialised knowledge and skills to match the needs of new emerging industries and markets, and business areas.
The two day conference "New Skills for a European Bioeconomy", organised by the European Commission, looked at this "skills gap" and proposed new solutions to develop a bioeconomy workforce, specialised and trained from the school benches to contribute to this rising and promising area that already today has a turnover of nearly €2 trillion and employs more than 22 million people.
This is a timely issue when Europe is struggling to create jobs and to promote much needed economic growth from alternative natural resources and sources of energy. But the fact is that at a time of high unemployment, Europe is still facing skill shortages and a number of studies have shown that the gap between supply and demand might increase in the future - a number of Member States, for example, report a shortage of students with skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics; several sectors have identified skill gaps due to a shortage of technical specialists while many companies lack personnel with adequate communication skills and depend on foreign talent for certain occupations.
Over nearly two days of debate, 37 speakers pointed out some of the actions that need to be taken by the European Commission, Member States, public and private stakeholders and civil society.
Given the complexity of the issue, it became clear that close cross-sectorial cooperation is necessary to ensure that the adequate skills, policies and capacities are developed to meet the labour force needs of the bioeconomy as well as to drive changes in the future.
The sheer complexity of the bioeconomy is in itself a challenge.
It requires the integration of knowledge and skills from a wide range of areas from biotechnology, agriculture and forest, to marine and food sciences that must be coupled with knowledge in biology, chemistry, physics, engineering and ICT.
In addition, social sciences and humanities are important to address cross-cutting topics, such as ethical and legal frameworks, the socioeconomic impact of new technologies and the societal acceptance of innovations.
A successful bioeconomy will therefore require innovative interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary efforts as well as the development of skills and competencies along the entire value chain.
As Patricia Reilly, from the Cabinet of Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, stated in the closing remarks, the European Commission is strongly committed to advancing skills as part of the bioeconomy agenda. However, this will require a collective effort in which all - European Commission, Member States, Regions, industries, stakeholders in the area of research, innovation, education and training, as well as citizens - work together directly through educational policy and programmes of research and innovation.
The "New Skills for a European Bioeconomy" conference took place in Brussels between 20-21 November and it gathered nearly 150 participants.
It is one of a series of conferences on the bioeconomy that are being organized by the European Commission's Directorate General for Research and Innovation in an effort to engage stakeholders, politicians and the public at large and to promote informed public debates on bioeconomy issues, research and innovation.
The next one will be held in Dublin under the eagis of the Irish presidency, on 14/15 February 2013.
The 2013 Stakeholders Conference - "Bioeconomy in the EU: Achievements and Directions for the Future" will be focusing on each of the different pillars of the bioeconomy strategy by debating on some concrete examples in plenary sessions.
To achieve this, a series of key note speeches and panel debates involving the main stakeholders will illustrate the current situation and the unresolved issues at stake.