Digitisation has already transformed our society, jobs and labour markets over the last twenty years.

Published 17 March 2017
Updated 10 May 2017

Authors:Roberto Viola, Director General DG Connect and Martine Reicherts, Director General DG EAC

We use the web in a million ways and are happy that we do not need to queue to do our banking, that we can shop at night or that we find any kind of information at the click of a mouse. Mechanics use software to find out why cars are not running, nurses use advanced e-health systems to care for patients, people on training can increasingly use a combination of classroom and online learning, and the police digitally map crime hot spots. The list is long – health care, farming, education, accounting, engineering, retail - to name but a few.

How to exploit the potential of these changes from an employment perspective will be on the agenda of the Digital Day in Rome on 23 March where a high-level workshop will focus on inclusion, jobs and skills. The meeting brings together ministers, industry and unions representatives, start-ups and academics, and will aim at producing policy recommendations.

It will be a great opportunity to discuss the far-reaching impact of digitisation on industry and business in general and the opportunities and challenges that come with it.

The digital transformation of business is reaching further and further, and it is accelerating. With the parallel advent of the Internet of things and advanced robotics – millions of sensors to measure the real world and plenty of intelligent robots that use this information for physical tasks – digitisation is moving beyond the computer screens of offices and homes. We are already used to seeing robots assemble cars in a factory but we will also get used to seeing robots repairing cars at the street corner.

Overall, this development is good for us. It improves our living standards, increases our life expectancy and quality of life. However, it also has disruptive effects especially on the labour market. Automation and new technologies such as artificial intelligence will make some of today's jobs redundant.

On the other hand, new jobs will be created with demand for skills that we may not even be aware of yet. When cars took over from horses and carts, we needed car mechanics. When newspapers became digital people who did desktop publishing were in demand. Right now, cutting edge companies are looking for people with so called "deep tech" skills – people with knowledge of artificial intelligence, big data, the internet-of-things and blockchain technologies. The risk is that the people who need to change jobs do not have the right skills to take on a new one with different requirements. It is therefore worrying that 21% of European citizens have no digital skills at all and that only 55% have sufficient digital competencies. As regards the workforce, only 64% have adequate digital skills.

It is crucial for social cohesion, the sustainability of our social models and for strong democratic institutions that rapid technological change is managed effectively to maximise the benefits and minimise the negative effects. We need to give all Europeans at all ages the opportunity for life-long learning and for updating of their skills so that they can successfully manage the rapid changes in the economy and society.

This is a mammoth task: we need to change the way we learn and we need to keep learning. Our education and training systems need a big overhaul. They need to become dynamic and responsive to developing skills needs. Education and training will need to involve not only educators and learners, but should also bring in employers, employees, policy makers, civil society and communities.

The Commission is working towards this goal. The Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition was launched in December 2016 as one of ten new actions announced under the New Skills Agenda for Europe. It brings together Member States, the private sector, social partners, non-profit organisations and education providers to tackle the lack of digital skills in Europe. The Commission is also working closely with Member States in the Education and Training 2020 Working Groups which focus on the development of digital skills at all levels and stages of learning. In addition, the Commission is considering the launch of internships in a digital scheme for students and recent graduates to bridge the gap between higher education and industry, at a time when digital on-the-job training is becoming increasingly important.

To make further progress in this area the Commission will host the high level debate – "Digital transformation, jobs and skills" – at the Digital Day in Rome on 23 March. What policies should be put in place to support this transformation? What is the role of the Member States and the European Commission? How can we make sure people have enough digital skills to cope and excel in life and work? These are some of the questions we will focus on.

We encourage you to follow the web streamed debate on 23 March and join our conversation on Twitter and Facebook. Your input and the results of the debate will feed into our future actions.