“EU must put ‘seal of urgency’ on skills strategy”, say SMEs at ‘digital breakfast’ event at the European Parliament

  • Digital SMEs from Bulgaria, France, Greece, Germany, Italy and Romania met MEPs and Commission staff for breakfast at the Parliament.

  • SMEs throughout Europe face similar hurdles when it comes to digital skills and adoption of new technologies. Participants emphasised the need for European leadership in a comprehensive upskilling effort that puts SMEs front and centre.

  • Participants proposed that “tomorrow’s technologies like AI” should be prioritised, but that “soft skills” also play a crucial role in tech jobs—and that women should play a much bigger role in the sector.

DIGITAL SME was delighted to welcome enterprises and policymakers to our "Breakfast with a digital SME" at the European Parliament.

One of the most salient criticisms of the EU is that Brussels is ‘disconnected’ from the people and businesses in far-away member states. As a European association with strong roots throughout the continent, we are aware of this issue. To ‘bridge the gap’, DIGITAL SME functions as the connector between European digital businesses and EU institutions, with great success: On 5 February, thanks to the strong support of MEP Petra Kammerevert, DIGITAL SME once again brought several small business representatives to Brussels to sit shoulder to shoulder with Members of the European Parliament and staff of the European Commission. The breakfast meeting was set to address another gap: the digital skills gap in Europe. 

The ‘Meet a digital SME for Breakfast’ event was hosted by MEP Petra Kammerevert

We need digital skills leadership to “avert the thunderstorm”

To “avert the thunderstorm” of a severe digital skills shortage, as DIGITAL SME Sec.-Gen. Sebastiano Toffaletti put it in his opening remarks, “we need a comprehensive European upskilling strategy.” This was also emphasised by SMEs around the table from different corners of Europe who suffer from a lack of talent. However, not only technical skills are needed—enterprises also require people with business acumen and soft skills such as problem-solving.

Another pitfall of European skills shortage: SMEs do not have the resources to invest in research and development (R&D). This is difficult for two reasons: “SMEs need to deal with the bread and butter first”, as SME entrepreneur Petko Karamotchev put it. At the same time, a young programmer wants to solve important problems—which he or she is more likely to do working for a large corporation rather than an SME. Thus, the R&D gap is closely linked to the skills gap. However, these considerations require forward thinking and leadership. As Michail Konstantinidis, entrepreneur and member of the Greek association HAMAC/SEKEE, put it, “tomorrow’s technologies like AI” should be prioritised.

MEP Anna Michelle Asimakopoulou came out in strong support of DIGITAL SME's 'Manifesto for Europe's Digital Future'

Innovating in hardware: another digital skill sorely needed

SME representative Etienne Laveau from Steel PC France brought up another point: “Hardware! It’s something we rarely hear in the discussions around digital skills.” But European hardware competences are sorely needed if the continent wants to stay afloat in the digital race. MEP Henna Virkkunen added that “we should use successful national initiatives to bridge digital skills gaps and use them on a Europe-wide level.”

Even though the digital skills situation has improved slightly, it’s not changing fast enough. “The EU must put a seal of urgency on developing an SME-centered digital skills development strategy”, as president of the 3B ICT Network and Cluj IT Cluster Stelian Brad put it. At the same time, there still seems to be a long road ahead, also when it comes to creating equal opportunities for women and men. “There seem to be fewer women in tech now than there were in the 80s”, said another participant before proposing that “we need a real digital skills revolution to get more women and girls into the digital sector”.

DIGITAL SME wants to thank all participants, especially MEP Kammerevert who helped organise the event, and looks forward to continued talks and discussions about digital skills!

We’re convinced that only when we connect people from different contexts and listen to each other, we can achieve meaningful solutions for all.

More photos from the breakfast event:

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