The EU Commission published the results of its barometer for the digital economy and society 2021 on Friday. According to the new edition of the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), all member states have made progress in the areas of human capital, broadband connectivity, integration of digital technology in companies and digital public services over the past year. In addition to a persistent digital divide, in particular between the Scandinavian countries at the top and the bottom two Bulgaria and Romania, there are also some continuous problem areas.
According to experts and companies, a shortage of skilled workers and young talent, especially in scientific and technical professions, endangers the German economy. How the shortage of skilled workers actually works, however, there are always different views, especially when it comes to working conditions, training and immigration.
Slow digital restructuring of companies
On average, 56 percent of people in the EU have at least basic digital skills and can use rudimentary search engines, for example. The number of employed specialists in the field of information and communication technologies (ICT) rose slightly in 2020 from 7.8 to 8.4 million.
The Commission is leading the comparatively slow digital restructuring of companies in many EU countries according to the investigation (PDF file) but also “due to a lack of employees with advanced digital skills”. 55 percent of the companies complained of difficulties in hiring IT specialists.
“Digital decade” is not achievable in this way
According to the government institution in Brussels, it is clear from the data that “training and career opportunities must be improved”. Otherwise the goals of the “digital decade” it proclaimed in this field would not be achievable. According to the initiative, 80 percent of the population will have basic digital skills by 2030 and the number of ICT professionals in Europe will grow to 20 million.
The Commission hopes for considerable improvements here, since according to the development and resilience plans adopted so far by the Council of Ministers, 17 percent of investments in the digital sector are intended for the development of relevant skills. This corresponds to 20 billion euros.
Women continue to be severely underrepresented in STEM subjects
The parallel published progress indicator for women in the digital world shows that there is still a considerable gender gap in digital skills. Only 19 percent of IT specialists and only around a third of math, computer science, natural sciences and technology (MINT) graduates are women.
The challenges in this sector also plague Germany. The Federal Republic of Germany lands in the index ranking – once again – in the middle of the field in eleventh place, after having already made it to position 9. In the area of human capital, Germany does above average in almost all indicators – with the exception of the proportion of female IT specialists – in an EU comparison. At least basic digital skills are widespread.
Germany is lagging behind in integrating digital technology
But there is still a shortage of specialists in this country. He influences according to the country report (PDF file) also the integration of digital technology by companies: Less than a third of companies (29 percent) exchange information electronically. In addition, only 18 percent of medium-sized companies issue electronic invoices. Germany has hardly been able to catch up on either of these indicators in recent years.
Connectivity statistics show improvements in “very high capacity networks” across the EU. Such connections in the gigabit range are now available for 59 percent of households, compared to 50 percent in the previous year. The commission is aiming for nationwide coverage with gigabit networks by 2030. The coverage of rural areas in this bandwidth increased from 22 percent in 2019 to 28 percent in 2020. In addition, 25 member states have now allocated 5G frequencies, compared to 16 in the previous year.
Digital divide between town and country
Germany achieves relatively good results when it comes to broadband expansion, although according to the analysis this is being adversely affected by bottlenecks in planning and construction capacities and “there is still a digital gap between rural and urban areas”. In terms of 5G readiness, the country is one of the front runners, in terms of general broadband use via the fixed network, it ranks second in the EU. Although gigabit coverage increased from 33 to 55.9 percent, it is still below the EU average. According to current estimates, around 66 percent of German households will have gigabit-enabled networks by the end of 2021.
Despite the corona lockdowns, little has happened in e-government. In the first year of the pandemic, however, at least “several member states built or expanded digital platforms” in order to offer more government services online. According to the results for Germany, the federal and state governments must work primarily to ensure the interoperability of the services provided for digital town halls. According to a local study, satisfaction with digital administration has dropped to a record low.
Basis for the annually created DESI index are data that come from the Eurostat statistical office as well as from specialist studies and special surveys. In addition, the Commission has the Results of a survey on the contribution of ICT to business efforts towards environmental sustainability published. 66 percent of the companies surveyed rely on such technical solutions to reduce their ecological footprint.