Although the economic shock of the Covid-19 pandemic was abrupt and brutal for many industries, the digital sector stands out for its unmatched resilience and exponential growth outlook as the economy begins to recover. Taking advantage of remote working and an expanding desire for technological innovation across diverse sectors, digital has become a real growth driver and job creator across the globe. This article takes a look at how Europe is using digital to kickstart its road to economic recovery.
According to the EU Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index 2021 (DESI), at least 56% of Europeans have at least basic digital skills (EU is targeting 80% by the end of the decade). Europe has put digital at the forefront of its NextGenerationEU program to relaunch the European economy following the negative consequences of the pandemic. The so-called ‘Digital Decade’ includes funding from the €750 billion agreed by Brussels to help tackle the crisis, and includes projects such as FTTH ultra-fast broadband and 5G rollout around Europe, smart city development, AI innovation and online shopping security.
With the percentage of ICT specialists in Europe growing year-on-year (+600,000 between 2019 and 2020 according to the DESI), the EU digital project will be a real driver of employment across the continent, with telecoms operators, field management specialists, service providers, research centres and diverse businesses jumping at the chance to develop digital-savvy personnel.
The digital sector requires a wide range of professions and expertise, inextricably linked to the evolution of digital technologies which are becoming omnipresent in our daily lives. This is an unstoppable trend; the Institute for the Future (IFTF) estimated back in 2017 that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet.
New technologies require new jobs down the value chain
Europe’s push for digital expansion through NextGenerationEU funding has seen a rise in demand for expertise in new professions that are emerging thanks to the appearance of new technologies, both hardware and software, and a desire for automation, cloud migration and digital transformation: fibre optics, programming languages, blockchain, cloud computing, software development etc. There remains a real market potential, but many companies continue to struggle to fill ICT specialist vacancies. Manpower is having trouble keeping up with the technology.
Nonetheless, like all other industrial revolutions, the digital one has also given rise to companies whose aim is precisely to take advantage of the latest digital inventions. FinTechs and software development companies are constantly on the lookout for software designers, engineers, coders, data scientists etc…
One example is the Ukrainian IT outsourcing, digital authority and consulting firm SoftServe. The company is a classic example of a firm jumping on the digital bandwagon to expand, which would not be possible without the existence of modern digital infrastructure. It already has over 13,000 associates globally, and recently opened delivery centres in Guadalajara, Mexico and Medellín, Colombia as part of its strategy to extend global delivery centre capabilities to Latin America and expanded its regional capabilities to Bucharest, Romania. The firm hires experts for a multitude of different digital jobs: WebUI software engineers, DevOps managers, Java software engineers, project managers etc.
“Delivery offices in Latin America will better connect our clients to top talent in the region and will more efficiently support operations within these time zones. As our client roster continues to grow, both new and existing customers are requesting more digital engineering to support their transformations,”said Softserve CEO Chris Baker.
FinTech startups have also been hoovering up talent across Europe. Qover, the Belgian FinTech startup specialising in digital insurance solutions that assist fast-growing companies on a global scale, providing their own real-time API and a solution quick and easily integrated on different platforms, has over 100 employees and is already live in 32 European countries. The firm already counts Deliveroo, Revolut, Wolt, and Immoweb among its clients. This firm is a great example of a delocalised company able to operate at an international level.
It is also a classic example of a firm that employs people in positions that did not exist until recently: backend or full stack developer, data scientist, network architect, etc. It has already begun to expand, opening an office in Paris and received €20.7M in series B funding led by Prime Ventures and backed by Cathay Innovation.
Of course, there are serious obstacles to the development of firms like SoftServe and Qover, not least a very real shortage of digital skills in Europe, one of the main objectives of the EU Digital Decade and NextGenerationEU recovery plan. According to the EU, “70% of businesses have said that the lack of staff with adequate digital skills is an obstacle to investment. Europe also faces a shortage of digital experts who can develop cutting-edge technologies for the benefit of all citizens.” Europe is aiming to tackle this through its Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027).
Digital infrastructure: development and deployment, a key driver of job creation
FinTechs, software development companies and cloud migration/automation experts owe their exponential rise to the large telecoms firms specialising in digital infrastructure. FTTH, 5G, AI innovation… These firms, working in collaboration with deployment and field management experts at a local level, lay the groundwork for the connected economy, creating thousands of job opportunities as they go.
Orange, the French telecoms giant employs over 130,000 people, Deutsche Telekom has over 200,000 worldwide (as of 2018). These firms are some of the biggest employers in digital, always on the lookout for data scientists, network automation specialists, cloud migration specialists, and experts in cybersecurity, 5G rollout and fibre-optic deployment.
Of course, the latter involves working with field management and deployment specialists, whatever the digital application to be used and its level of sophistication. Whether it be for telecoms, connected metres or charging stations for electric vehicles, working with specialists who can connect people to networks in their homes or at work, install hardware and oversee daily operations at a local level is paramount. Here too, new jobs have appeared, like fibre optic technicians, connection technicians, cable pullers, etc.
The demand for these jobs is actually growing, as investment plans to connect the whole of Europe to FTTH grows. Back in 2021, the FTTH Council Europe exclaimed that nearly 180 million homes (>50% of all European homes) were already connected to HSBB networks. But certain countries, namely the UK, Germany and Italy, have been lagging behind, creating a real demand for deployment specialists and in turn job opportunities.
These job prospects have been highlighted by Gianbeppi Fortis, CEO of Solutions 30, a firm specialising in field management whose presence across European fibre optic rollout projects continues to grow, whether it be for installation or maintenance: “The largest European countries, such as Great Britain and Germany, are lagging behind in terms of broadband rollout. Our subsidiaries in these countries therefore offer jobs to skilled workers with the necessary know-how for HSBB deployment and maintenance, for at least the next ten years…”
The particularity of field management jobs, within the large family of digital talents, is that they are in principle non relocatable, which means they contribute in large part to the economic dynamism of small localities and rural areas, where FTTH connection is a major challenge. Connecting Europe is a key objective of the Digital Decade, and this has become even more prevalent as remote working becomes the norm as a direct result of the health crisis. Employment opportunities are therefore on the rise.