Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs

Fourth European cluster policy forum: promoting internationalisation and skill development through clusters

Fourth European cluster policy forum: promoting internationalisation and skill development through clusters
Published on: 28/06/2019
On 14 March 2019, 15 representatives of 13 EU countries were updated on recent developments in cluster policies. Participants met to discuss the role of clusters and cluster policy in promoting internationalisation and skill development. There, they could share where they see a need for policy action, including at EU level.

Outcomes of the 4th European cluster policy forum

Participants all agreed on the importance of internationalisation and skills development through European clusters as a key means of boosting industrial change and growth.

As it is estimated that 90% of global growth will soon take place outside the EU, helping SMEs internationalise is becoming more important. EU countries highlighted the great potential they see in American and Asian markets (e.g. China, Japan, Mexico, and the USA).

Under the COSME programme, the EU started the cluster internationalisation programme for SMEs. It supports SMEs in accessing global value chains through clusters through a number of initiatives such as the European cluster collaboration platform, the EU cluster go international project that supports the European strategic cluster partnerships for going international (ESCP-4i) and the international cluster matchmaking events. In addition, the DG for Industry signed administrative arrangements on cluster cooperation with national authorities in third countries. The agreement aims to facilitate linkages between clusters to the mutual economic benefit of both parties and better help SMEs find strategic partners beyond Europe. Global challenges such as climate change are being tackled by the low carbon business action in Brazil and Mexico under the partnership instrument.

At national level, initiatives such as the technology open innovation programme (ZIM) in Germany and the Polish internationalisation of the key national cluster programme are promoting cluster's internationalisation.

On skills, the 2016 new skills agenda for Europe covers 10 main actions under the 3 pillars of (1) quality and relevance of skills, (2) visibility and comparability and (3) skills intelligence. An example of these actions is the 2017 blueprint for sectoral cooperation on skillsThis is a framework for strategic cooperation between key stakeholders in a given economic sector to support an overall sectoral strategy and develop concrete actions to address short and medium term skill needs.

Another example is the digital skills and jobs coalition of EU countries, companies, social partners, non-profit organisations and education providers to take action to tackle the lack of digital skills in Europe.

At a national level, Luxembourg’s digital skills bridge served as an example. It offers companies and employees upskilling and support to address changes in the marketplace.

Despite what is already being done, participants in the forum identified common challenges that still need to be addressed to maximise the use of clusters in promoting internationalisation and skills development

  • Convincing clusters to participate in EU internationalisation remains difficult, especially participating in EU cluster initiatives
  • To maximise benefits, the role that clusters can have in internationalisation needs to be better understood
  • Cluster managers should come together and build trust to facilitate cluster internationalisation and cooperation, which can be addressed by cluster events (e.g. matchmaking)
  • Meaningful collaboration between SMEs and multinational companies requires more effort
  • Cluster managers need more programmes to develop the right skillset, as suggested, a cluster partnerships for skills and adding a skilling strategy in the research and innovation strategies for smart specialisation (RIS3) could facilitate this
  • Only around 25% of SMEs in Europe are digitalised and more programmes and trainings are needed for SMEs to capitalise on digital opportunities

Background  

The basis for discussion included an input paper providing insight into and concrete examples of how internationalisation (both intra-EU and beyond) and workforce skills development matter for industrial change and growth.

The rationale for EU level support for cluster internationalisation is the need to pool resources, promote complementarities and ensure a critical mass of expertise, products and services in a particular market or value chain. Promoting SME internationalisation is a key element in the new orientation of EU clusters towards joint cluster initiatives in the single market programme (2021-2027). It is also one of the most frequently mentioned objectives of national cluster policy programmes in Europe.

There is evidence of the importance of internationalisation in the increasing number of cluster policies at national level focusing on promoting internationalisation, such as the Polish Internationalisation of the key national cluster programme and the German clusters-networks-international programme.

The rise of new technologies is massively transforming the nature of jobs. This is leading to an ever-growing skills gap that risks slowing future growth and exacerbating social disparities unless there is a large-scale effort to upskill and/or reskill the current workforce and future professionals. EU cluster policy has not in the past regarded promotion of workforce skills development as a priority and there has been no dedicated programme, except for the development of cluster management skills. However, this should change in future as skills development has been included among the building blocks of the Joint Cluster Initiatives proposed for the next multiannual financial framework (2021-2027).

For general enquiries about the European cluster policy forum, please contact GROW-CLUSTERS@ec.europa.eu

Reference documents

Speaker presentations

Welcome

Session 1: Internationalisation

Session 2 – Skills