Digital gamechanger? How Europe’s cities are adapting to the impact of COVID-19 on jobs and skills
By Eddy Adams
What lasting impact will the pandemic have on jobs and skills across Europe’s cities? There is a consensus that COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst, accelerating prevailing trends particularly around digital working. However, when it comes to its lasting impact the opinions are split. On one side are those expecting the changes to last with all of their implications, such as high levels of remote working, increased use of digital processes and a major step-change in the need for city centre offices. On the other side are those who forecast a return to business as usual. In their view, the past year has shown us new possibilities, but it has also exposed our need for human contact and physical interaction.
As they shift their focus towards recovery, Europe’s cities have business and employment amongst their priorities. Once the immediate health emergency is addressed, the need to tackle the pandemic’s economic damage is central to a successful recovery. This article considers the position of jobs and skills and digital transition within EU urban policy, and the extent to which it can address the stress test presented by the pandemic. In particular, it examines the way in which the operational aspects of the policy have enabled cities to respond to the fast-changing digital consequences that have emerged over the past year.
It is important to note that before COVID-19 the EU already had key policies in place in anticipation of the shift to digital. The European Digital Strategy provides the overall framework. Its comprehensive scope comprises three streams of action: technology that works for people; an open democratic and sustainable society; and a fair and competitive digital economy. Complementing this, the refreshed European Skills Agenda established 12 actions to modernise Europe’s skills base. A core objective is a 25% uplift in the share of adults aged 16–74 with basic digital skills.
From an urban perspective, the New Leipzig Charter and the Urban Agenda for the EU provide the framework for this analysis. The starting point is the position given to jobs and skills by anchors of the EU urban policy acquis. This article then offers examples of the way in which cities of all sizes are approaching this from the four corners of Europe.
In response to the EU’s urban policy priorities linked to jobs and skills, what are they doing on the ground? Specifically, how does the digital dimension affect their approaches and how resilient have their plans been in light of the challenges faced over the past year?