Technological developments and global digitalisation are among the forces behind great changes in our society that affect education, the labour market, industry and innovation. On Tuesday 11 September, YouthProAktiv attended the EIT Digital Conference 2018: The Future of Europe’s Digital Innovation in Brussels, which explored, among others, entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial approaches, formal and non-formal learning throughout life, skills and competences needed to succeed, and the European perspective.
For the third year, this popular event was organised by EIT Digital, a major digital innovation and entrepreneurial education organisation and a Knowledge and Innovation Community of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, an EU body. The day’s programme was moderated by journalist, lecturer and entrepreneur Asha Sumputh and started with an opening presentation by Willem Jonker, CEO of EIT Digital, who presented the European and global context of digital innovation and entrepreneurship. In her keynote session, Themis Christophidou, Director-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture of the European Commission, she emphasised the immense importance of education to help people adapt to the digital transformations and take advantage of all the possibilities. She believes we need to educate people of all ages to be active citizens and prepare them for jobs, but Ms Christophidou is optimistic, as she believes that education has never been higher on the political agenda as a priority than today. She mentioned some concrete examples of developments over the past two years, such as the November 2017 proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, with education, training and life-long learning being the very first of its 20 principles, and this year’s release of two packages of initiatives towards a European Education Area.
The panel on Disruptive Education for Future Digital Skills featured six professionals: Rob Fastenau, Dean of the Extension School, Technical University Delft; Kristine Østensen from IBM, representing their graduate programme for future leaders; Anders Flodström, Chief Education Officer at EIT Digital; Tuomas Syrjänen, Founder of Futurice; Xin Hu, CEO & Co-founder of MatchX and alumnus of EIT Digital Master School; and Frank Baaijens, Rector, Technical University Eindhoven.
Mr Fastenau talked about the challenges in higher education, the mismatch of demand and supply in all stages of education, and the need to offer alternative forms of high-quality education to those young people who are not privileged enough to be able to study at a university campus.
Ms Østensen mentioned that IBM is one of the companies that no longer requires people for their specialised technical positions to hold a Master’s degree, acknowledging that people can gain valuable competences in different ways.
Mr Syrjänen talked about creating a start-up that people enjoy working for and are productive in: it all starts with culture of autonomy, transparency, loads of energy and innovation, helping people become who they want to be, and nurturing everyone’s entrepreneurial skills. He also reflected on how to prepare young people for jobs that do not exist yet. People need to have a curious mind-set, explore, try out, and schools and organisations need to have a supporting culture for that, and not just for technology people, designers and creatives, but at all levels – “curiosity across the whole organisation” is the key for him. Mr Fastenau followed up with suggesting that the sometimes scary term “life-long learning” could be replaced with “life-long curiosity” as an important priority to promote; schools need to teach students to stay curious throughout their lives, continue learning, exploring and adapting to change.
Mr Syrjänen also talked about shared responsibility for an individual’s education: he believes that schools have the responsibility to provide people with basic knowledge and transversal competences and companies need to allow people to carry on growing and stay relevant, while individuals should feel responsibility for their own future by proactively educating themselves further and growing the right skill set.
Education was debated further during the Europe & The Future of Digital Education panel, one of three interactive Though Leadership sessions in the afternoon. It was moderated by Gian Mario Maggio, Node Director of EIT Digital Italy, who opened the session by stating that “there is no innovation without education”. Daniela Melandri, CR&D EU Funding Manager, Future Cities Catapult & Visiting Lecturer, Brunel University London, reflected on the balance between formal and non-formal/informal education for the best results, and though it differs slightly across different subjects, the experience from informal and non-formal education is crucial as it often brings with it practical experience that has to be combined with theory. She is from an engineering background and gained a lot from proactive learning outside of her formal education.
EIT Digital Alumnus Andreas Kaas Johansen of IBM agreed that non-formal learning can enhance formal education immensely. He himself actively sought extra knowledge and skills through online courses to complement his studies, for example when he thought he should look into a programming language that he found missing from his university curriculum. He later also praised the life-long learning potential of online courses and other accessible sources of further learning, which helps people constantly evolve and not be restricted by their university degrees: “I’m not limited by what I know, only by what I can still learn now.”
When thinking about how to prepare people for an uncertain future and jobs that might not even exist yet, Anders Flodström, present also at the earlier panel, proposed we should build on our fascination with technology and enhance this with soft and entrepreneurial skills, as the entrepreneurship and innovation element can often be forgotten. Director of Agoranov and Sorbonne University professor Jean-Michel Dalle talked about entrepreneurship, which he teaches not just for students to start their own businesses, which he knows not everyone will, but to improve levels of autonomy, navigate in professional environments, be able to interact effectively with other people… For him, entrepreneurial skills are invaluable for people in many different positions. Mr Maggio echoed that focusing on soft skills and entrepreneurial skills might be the right way forward, also because these are not changing as quickly as technological skills.
The conference also featured a keynote session by Axelle Lemaire, Partner, Global Head of Terra Numerata, Roland Berger & Former Secretary of State in French Government in charge of Digital and Innovation, and ended with a Panel: Innovation and Entrepreneurship – Fast and Furious – the Deep Tech Revolution, with Andra Sonea, Fellow, Anthemis Group; Jackson Bond, Chief Product Officer & Co-Founder, relayr; Neil Crockett, Chief Digital Officer, Rolls-Royce; Gerard de Graaf, Director Digital Single Market, DG Connect EU; Richard Hadden, Director of Investment, Breed Reply; Chahab Nastar, Chief Research and Innovation Officer, EIT Digital; and Clara Pezuela, Head of IT Market Research and Innovation group, Atos.
Earlier parallel sessions on the future of digital platforms and on scaling up new businesses, respectively, presented contributions from Willem Jonker, CEO, EIT Digital; Piotr Korzeniowski, CFO of Piwik PRO and Clearcode; Madalina Nazare, Collaborative Research and Development Lead, UK Digital Catapult; Vasco De Freitas, Co-Founder and Head of Customer Engagement at Electronic ID; Christian Sckerl, Node Director, EIT Digital Germany, as moderator; Chahab Nastar, Chief Research and Innovation Officer, EIT Digital; Maximilian Venhofen, Director of Business Development, Cleverciti; Roee Peled, Sr. Director, Strategic Partnerships, Flex; Robin Wauters, Founding Editor, Tech.eu; and Eric Thelen, Director, EIT Digital Silicon Valley Hub, as moderator.
Throughout the day, Innovators’ Village provided an excellent opportunity to showcase the latest digital innovations, start-ups and initiatives and to network.
The conference reassured us that entrepreneurial skills, life-long learning and youth entrepreneurship and proactivity are highly valued by policy-makers, businesses, educational institutions and young professionals alike, and we are looking forward to seeing the further progress of the excitement, drive and commitment present at the event in abundance.