Education and Digital Transformation: The New Societal Challenge

For most European countries, the issue of training in the challenges of digital transformation is now at the heart of public debate, both educationally and economically.

We are at an unprecedented turning point in our history: the transition from an analog world to a digital one, where robots, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, cloud storage, self-driving cars and cyber security have brought science fiction into our everyday lives over a very short space of time.

However, digital transformation is occurring so rapidly that we risk not being able to support it, due to a lack of human capital, or rather, a lack of preparation and skills of that human capital.

Various organizations have raised alarm bells on this problem for quite some time. For example, the European Union has already warned that due to lack of skills, by 2020 there would be 756,000 vacancies in the ICT sector in the member states.

The Digital Transformation Scoreboard 2017, the EU survey on the evolution of digital transformation in Europe, shows that, although diverse, the situation is problematic in most European countries. It stresses that among the seven essential elements of digital transformation, French companies need to continue their efforts by integrating new technologies into their production methods, and adapting their business models (use of the cloud, e-commerce, etc.). France would also benefit from the development of ICT companies, particularly SMEs, which could act as a powerful lever for developing industry transformation. Therefore, it seems essential for these two aspects to be reinforced with serious consideration of digital training for the active population.

The technological advances we are experiencing thus require an increasing presence of qualified professionals in the data research, development, management and analysis fields. In the private sector, however, we are starting to feel the shortage of professionals with the required skills and training. To remedy this shortage, companies are trying to organize themselves: in the software sector, for example, publishers attempt a response by promoting their own training projects. These are programs for STEM graduates (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) but also for the employees themselves, to which these companies contribute by providing the required knowledge and expertise in areas such as cloud, artificial intelligence and big data. This is the case at SAP, who, in addition to the courses given by company professionals in French business schools such as Paris Dauphine, EDEC, etc., has launched a continuing education program this year at ESSEC and Polytechnique for its own employees.

While these courses are very successful, it is now the time to take a step further, given the complexity of the challenge we face: this could be the case with the development of partnerships that would establish a framework for publishers to provide training in areas that companies will need in the future when looking into digital transformation. Naturally, these partnerships in this collaboration spirit must include all participants in the university, scientific, technological and economical plan, with the implementation of expert committees to take account of the specific context and needs of each of those involved. One of these fundamental elements is the need for continuing education: teaching is not only for young people, it should not end after student life, but instead continue throughout working life. On the one hand, this is assurance for companies that they will have the required skills for the long term, and on the other hand, for employees to develop their employability in a changing professional world.

The topic of a public-private partnership is also worth exploring. Companies have a lot to offer in terms of the needs of the digital world we are now developing in: if we really want to see significant progress in training, we must bring IT know-how to the source of education, i.e. directly to schools. As SAP CEO, Bill McDermott, told G20 leaders in October 2016: “SAP has embraced the view that training workers for a digital economy is our corporate responsibility. Going further, we believe that leading companies have a moral obligation to initiate people into the modern economy, regardless of where they come from.”

There are several cases in Europe and Africa of IT companies that have set up training programs in collaboration with schools and universities: thanks to skill-based sponsorship, it is the employees of these companies who bring their knowledge and experience directly to students.

SAP is investing in a comprehensive skills development cycle to support young Africans with two key programs: SAP Skills for Africa, which equips young university graduates with the business and IT skills they need to enter working life on an equal footing, and Africa Code Week, which expands this coverage of key skills to primary and secondary school pupils, with the long-term goal of training 200,000 teachers and introducing 5 million young people to the joys of coding over the next ten years.

Launched in 2015 as part of its societal commitment, these two programs are the story for hundreds of schools, government and non-governmental organizations, businesses and associations, working together to empower the African youth with the skills they need to fully express themselves and succeed in the digital age. The same idea has been put forward by European Code Week, a grassroots initiative supported by the European Commission as part of the Digital Single Market, which since 2013 has aimed to introduce everyone to coding and digital literacy in a practical and stimulating way. In both cases, this is a win-win partnership for companies to ensure that they have the skills required for their future development, and for students to ensure they have the qualifications needed for their professional careers.