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Shaping Europe's high-value economic future

In recent decades, Europe has stood at the crossroads of immense technological advancements and a deeply significant green transition. These transformations, while promising new opportunities, are reshaping our labour landscape, often faster than our societies can adjust.

As with all progress, comes its set of challenges. Europe is currently navigating through labour market imbalances, a direct result of this rapid transition. As we usher in the European Year of Skills 2023, I believe that it's a moment to reflect on this paradigm shift, recognising the labour market imbalances created by these rapid changes.

First and foremost, let's talk about where the imbalances lie. A significant portion of European nations, including tech-savvy Finland and industrious Germany, are grappling with shortages in technical and ICT skills. As industries move toward digitalisation and more towards a greener economy, there’s a mounting urgency to equip our citizens with the tools needed to thrive in this new world.

Responding to these shortages requires a twofold approach: re-skilling and re-training. Take Spain, for instance, which has pioneered innovative vocational education programmes that intertwine classroom learning with on-the-job training. This balanced approach ensures that theory meets practice, producing graduates ready for the real world of work.

In Malta, for instance, the digital sector is booming. However, the demand for ICT professionals far outstrips supply. And we must question: How do we bridge this gap to ensure that our financial and non-financial sectors continue to improve their productivity and competitiveness in Europe and around the world?

The answer is multifaceted. Emphasising re-training and re-skilling is crucial to this transition. As the digital age engulfs us, a significant portion of our workforce finds their skills becoming obsolete. We need targeted programmes, like those initiated in Malta's Lifelong Learning Strategy, which fosters an environment of continuous learning.

Apprenticeships, too, are an avenue ripe for exploration. Germany’s robust apprenticeship programmes, where nearly two-thirds of young adults participate, offer an exemplary model. These initiatives not only offer hands-on experience but also foster a culture where continuous learning is revered.

Yet, as Europe grows more interconnected, our solutions must also transcend borders. And that is where the European Parliament, and all other European institutions should be directly involved to ensure a balanced approach between different regions, member states and industries.

We should strive for cross-border matching in occupations, especially in sectors with glaring talent shortages. A Danish engineer might be the solution to an Italian firm's needs, and a Maltese IT expert might be the missing link for a start-up in Portugal.

A European conversation about the future would be remiss without addressing the green and digital transformation that we are expecting to go through in the coming years and decades. Policies that foster green growth and digital adaptation by the entire populace are imperative. Look at Sweden's push towards a circular economy, emphasizing re-manufacturing, re-use, and repairs. Their vision forecasts a spike in local jobs by 2030, reflecting a European-wide potential if we channel our energies correctly and collaboratively between us all as member states of the EU.

Investment in R&D and the creation of innovation clusters are also pivotal. Europe's commitment to becoming a leader in areas like energy transition, data and digital technologies, and advanced manufacturing necessitates robust investment across all member states, not least in Malta. France’s tech-centric 'La French Tech' initiative, which brings together entrepreneurs, investors, and designers under one umbrella, hints at the innovation that arises when multi-faceted stakeholders come together.

Such multi-stakeholder involvement must extend further. The intertwining of business angel networks, training centers, universities, businesses, NGOs, and the general public, such as seen in the Netherlands’ Brainport Eindhoven model, demonstrates the holistic approach required. As the Dutch have shown, harnessing the strengths of diverse groups is paramount in moulding our collective future.

Furthermore, in an interconnected Europe, we must look beyond our borders. Cross-border matching, like the collaboration between Maltese tech firms and their counterparts in other European nations, can address immediate skill shortages while long-term solutions are forged.

The green and digital transformations present a two-pronged approach. On one side, we have the imperative to incorporate digital adaptation across our population, ensuring everyone from Gharb to Marsaxlokk is digitally literate. Simultaneously, Europe's ambitious Green Deal underscores the importance of shifting towards a circular economy. By 2030, EU member states can envision a surge in jobs centred on re-manufacturing, re-use, and repairs at both local and regional levels.

But dreams need fuel, and our fuel is investment, both by the private sector and also by the national Governments, including the Maltese government. Directing resources into R&D and cultivating clusters of innovation, especially in fields like advanced manufacturing, are paramount.

Crafting the future isn't a task for policymakers alone. It demands a concerted effort, drawing in diverse stakeholders. In Malta, the symbiotic relationship between institutions like the University of Malta, the Malta Enterprise, start-ups, and NGOs showcases how collaborative efforts can yield tangible outcomes.

Yet, amidst these ambitious plans on a European level, lie potential pitfalls. And as a Member of the European Parliament, and Vice President of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament, my biggest challenge is to keep myself continuously updated with all these changes and their impact on European citizens in their daily routines.

As automation advances, it's our male counterparts, those with lower education, and those in manual, routine jobs who stand most vulnerable. This isn't just a Maltese concern but a pan-European one. Thus, our policies should not just focus on addressing the now but ensuring the future isn't mired in unintended disparities and in larger inequalities.

For true success, our European R&D and skills investments need to translate into high-quality jobs that satisfy our people's aspirations, now and especially in the near future. Jobs that offer not just monetary compensation but a sense of purpose and direction in an ever-changing world, while ensuring that people feel secure and protected.

We stand on the cusp of an era where Europe's next chapter in history will be written. It's a story that needs us all – every stakeholder, every citizen – to be its authors. With the promise of tomorrow beckoning, let’s shape it into one of prosperity, inclusivity, and enduring value for everyone in Europe and beyond.