The current wave of digital transformation is rapidly changing industrial production processes. The Internet of Things, cloud computing and other innovations facilitate a more software-driven, individual and efficient way of producing goods and services. And it presents a formidable challenge to EU policymakers, since only a successful transformation of European industry in general and of manufacturing industry in particular can ensure Europe’s competitiveness in the future.
If the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the EU is to be a success, an important ingredient is bound to be the mass upgrading of the digital skills of European workers, which will enable them to keep up with the pace of technological progress. This means that in education policy policymakers are primarily concerned with reskilling and upskilling opportunities for companies, employees and skilled craftsmen. Furthermore, reskilling opportunities should be industry-specific and provided at a local level. The main obstacle to a comprehensive provision of reskilling opportunities for European citizens is the multi-faceted digital divide within the European Union. Without outside support, less innovative European regions and SMEs may well miss out on the current wave of digital transformation. In the absence of a regional or internal capacity to develop reskilling programmes or to find out more about the possibilities of new production methods, many European manufacturing companies could easily be outcompeted by their American and Asian rivals.
The need to develop reskilling programmes for connected production and the multi-faceted digital divide within the EU should encourage European policymakers to develop a European reskilling approach. Bearing in mind the institutional constraints within the EU concerning education policy (which to all intents and purposes is in the hands of the Member States), this policy paper makes two recommendations with regard to the development of a European reskilling strategy.
1. Build a “European Coalition for Reskilling and Digitizing Industry” consisting of large European manufacturing companies which can help SMEs throughout the EU to develop their own reskilling programmes. The coalition would be modelled on the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition.
2.Upgrade the network of Digital Innovation Hubs into a network for innovation and skills development and training. Digital Innovation Hubs can function as regional facilitators that bring together regional SMEs seeking reskilling opportunities and large companies in the European Coalition for Reskilling outlined in 1.