The world economy is changing at breakneck speed and European universities are finding it hard not to be left behind. This is reflected in the study European Tech Insights 2019 that analyzes the opinion of citizens of 8 European countries - France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom - before the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the wave of technological transformations. Among the main conclusions, this research reveals that six out of 10 Europeans with higher degrees consider that their universities did not prepare them to manage the technological revolution. This is verified by 68% of workers 50-65 years of age and 37% of young people aged 18-34 years. What is failing and how can we solve this problem?
The gap between the skills of university graduates and the needs of the labor market has not stopped growing in the last decade. Studies of the European Union indicate that the 40% of companies have difficulties finding qualified employees, a figure that rises to 70% in companies in strategic sectors such as technology and science.
This mismatch costs millions of euros and around two% of the productivity of the European economy. In addition, it causes frustration and precariousness to thousands of citizens who are unable to find work or develop successful careers. Everything indicates that this situation will continue to grow in the coming years if urgent measures are not adopted due to the demographic change and the advance of the fourth industrial revolution.
What can universities do about it? Many institutional actors consider that the solution to this imbalance is to adjust the training offer to the demands of the market, eliminating or reducing those careers with "worse" work output to focus on the STEM degrees -Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics-. Although the need to intensively and transversally strengthen this type of profile is evident for Europe to be competitive in the digital economy, this measure can not come alone for two reasons. First, because the university is not exclusively dedicated to training technical professionals, it must also educate citizens and contribute to the advancement of knowledge in all its branches. Second, because this educational gap is not necessarily associated with specific degrees. Among the skills most demanded by employers in the EU are hard skills such as programming or data analysis, but also transferable skills such as creativity or critical thinking, which we must develop through the study of the humanities and social sciences. In this line, the fact that seven of the ten best universities in the European Union in terms of employability, they have a generalist imprint and a focus on the humanities.
The universities, therefore we must help our students to have the necessary technical skills to face our new reality, but also guide them towards the acquisition of those skills they will need to succeed in the various jobs they will occupy throughout their lives . This exercise should be done prospectively, that is, it should not only be oriented towards the current market, but also towards the future, when students who are now in their first year of university degree will access their first job. In this line, the European Union has launched initiatives such as New Skills Agenda for Europe. In any case, the lack of a clear strategy on the part of governments like ours, due to the politicization of education and the fragmentation of educational policies in the different Autonomous Communities, dangerously slows down the transformation process.
Finally, universities must expand and improve their offer of Life Long Learning, continuous training throughout life. The dizzying speed with which the world changes forces professionals to a continuous process of recycling. As noted by digital revolution expert Alvin Toffler, "the illiterate of our century are not those who can not read or write, but those who can not learn, unlearn and relearn." ANDn around fifty% The knowledge acquired by a student in his first year in a technical career will be obsolete the day he graduates. In order not to be left out of the market, you will have to continue training. However, most European universities still lack an attractive continuing education offer, which is adapted to the needs and realities of active workers. Our ability to generate these options depends to a large extent on the future of Europe and the prosperity of its future generations.
Diego del Alcázar Benjumea is Executive Vice President IE University