Fixing The Digital Skills Gap

Dionisis Kolokotsas, Public Policy Manager at Google, discusses how Greece can improve its performance in the digital arena, and how Google is helping boost Greece’s tourism efforts.

What’s the big idea?

The web is a great level playing field, where even the little guys can rise to the top. In today’s world, anyone and everyone can be a global player, all they need is an idea. It’s never been easier to share a passion, an idea, to make a living, from anywhere—a garage, a bedroom, or of course an office. People from all over the world, at any age or skillset, can use the web to start a new business, grow an existing one, develop apps or online content and find an audience to share their passion and thrive. The Internet has spurred innovation across a wide range of industries and driven economic growth.

Is Europe a serious contender in online enterprise?

Many companies in Europe are leveraging the web today. In fact, Europe is a hotbed of creative and successful developers. Many apps and websites you use—to get about town more easily, entertain yourself, and book a holiday—were born in Europe. Angry Birds, BlaBlaCar, Skyscanner, Candy Crush Saga, SwiftKey and countless more were built here and have risen to become household names the world over. Then there are apps you may not have heard of yet: Edjing, a DJ app for music lovers, that now has 60 million users in more than 180 countries. Or EyeEM, an app allowing 13 million photographers to share and sell their work. There are success stories from all 28 EU countries.

And how does Greece fare?

In Greece too, a number of companies have successfully launched their digital journey. Take as an example KeyTours, a travel company that was established in 1963 and, since it embraced the web in 2012, managed to increase profits by 30% and its employees by more than 50%. Or Incrediblue, a tourism start-up launched in 2013, which has raised €2.2million in funding and created 16 high value-adding jobs. The list can go on, reflecting opportunities that lie ahead for all of us. In fact, Greece is very well positioned for leveraging the web and growing its economy: it has a strong foundation of people with solid analytical skills, ranking sixth in terms of availability of scientists and engineers among 140 countries worldwide.

What can we do better in Europe and Greece?

Yes. It’s also fair to say there’s more to be done to make sure Greece succeeds in the digital world. Actually, it also has to do with Europe as a whole, the first and most important market for Greek products and services. Despite the fact that Europe is a single market, this is not yet the case online. One set of rules across the European Union will make it easier even for the smallest company to trade its products and services across 28 countries online. In addition, Europe needs to be kept open to digital trade and data; and it should take a positive, open attitude to digital growth. A Digital Single Market in Europe is a huge opportunity. Reform could raise the EU’s GDP by at least 4% by 2020, and generate up to  €415 billion of additional growth. That is worth having. And Greece needs to be among the Member States that lead the way forward.

How does the skills gap factor in?

Within the Digital Single Market, the biggest factor of success is people. Unfortunately, there is a digital skills gap throughout the Union. According to a European Commission report, almost half the EU population (47%) is not properly digitally skilled, yet in the near future, 90% of jobs will require some level of digital skills. The report also found that up to 900,000 jobs will go unfilled by 2020 because of this skills gap. And we’re not just talking about complex computer programming or coding or software development, but basic skills useful to all businesses from multinationals to corner shops—how to build a website, marketing your products and services online, building a valuable following on social media.

And where does Google fit in?

With this skills gap in mind, Google made a pledge a year ago: to train a million Europeans in digital skills by the end of 2016, helping Europe to make the most of the digital opportunity. We were delighted that within six months, we reached our goal to train 1 million Europeans. That’s why we have doubled our pledge to a total of 2 million. We’re doing this in partnership with the European Commission, making our pledge part of their Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs, which aims to tackle low digital skills in Europe.

What is Google’s focus in Greece?

In Greece, we decided to focus primarily on tourism, a sector that accounts for over 20% of the GDP and of jobs and with an even greater potential. According to research institute Oxford Economics, by improving Greece’s online presence, we can add 3% to GDP and 100,000 jobs.

For this reason, in September 2014 we launched “Grow Greek Tourism Online.” We did this in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism, the Greek National Tourism Board (EOT) and the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE). The initiative provides tourism professionals—current and those who aspire to become professionals in the future—with digital skills and tools to grow and become more competitive in the global marketplace. In the first two years of “Grow Greek Tourism Online” more than 10,000 SMEs were trained across Greece. This year, we will make an ambitious step forward, aiming to further build the tourism ecosystem. In particular, we have created new online workshops ( available to anyone who wants to enrich his/her knowledge on digital tools and marketing for tourism. We have also trained 20 talented “online advisors” who will travel across Greece to conduct face-to-face trainings as well as larger-scale workshops. Their aim will be to assist and train tourism companies no matter how small on how to utilize the Internet and grow their business.

We’re committed to helping Greeks make the most of the digital opportunity. In these challenging times we believe that a lot can be done to help Greece succeed in the digital world and exit the crisis; and we want to be part of that.

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