The twenty-fifth edition of the Report on the Global Economy and Italy, a joint annual publication by Luigi Einaudi Research and Documentation Centre and Intesa Sanpaolo, is clear on one point: Italy is lagging behind in digital skills.
This digital mismatch, i.e. a lack of alignment between labour supply and demand calibrated to new digital skills, threatens to hold back recovery.
There is one point, however, that can be leveraged to change the situation. This is explained by economist Mario Deaglio, professor emeritus of International Economics at the University of Turin, and also editor of the Report: since e-commerce and smart working are here to stay, “we need to invest in infrastructure, research and innovation but also in human capital training”. Schools, continued training and uninterrupted investment in infrastructure.
Human capital should not be subsidised or compensated for being left unused, but should be employed and improved through investments in training
Just take a look at the COVID emergency in its most acute phase. What would it have been, asks Deaglio, “if commercial distribution had not continued through e-commerce, if financial and insurance services had not been guaranteed by online channels and if entertainment had not been (partially) guaranteed by streaming and gaming?”
Reskilling to shape the future of work
Even if the companies involved in producing and offering these services “are the same ones that, even before the pandemic, represented a risk for traditional ones on the unstoppable wave of digital transformation“, continues Deaglio, “the degree of overlap between the organisations and technologies that have been reversing the techno-economic paradigm based on the network for twenty years and what was essential during the emergency (including the record-breaking development of vaccines) is staggering”.
The Annual Report on the Global Economy and Italy points out that this is compounded by the topic of digital reskilling: “The transition to a green, circular and digital economy is likely to accelerate the ageing of skills. Human capital should not be subsidised or compensated for being left unused, but should be employed and improved through investments in training”. Narrowing the digital mismatch is crucial in this restart phase.
A 2020 Boston Consulting Group survey revealed that even though the digital mismatch problem was substantial before, the pandemic dramatically polarised this rift and could lead to productivity losses of 6–11% and $18 trillion less in GDP growth by 2025.
The situation in Italy
The gap between supply and demand must therefore be bridged quickly, reducing the digital mismatch. ISTAT’s 2021 Annual Report underscores this gap, especially considering the low incidence of degrees in STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in our country.
Italian STEM graduates account for 15.5 per thousand of 20–29 year olds, which is 4.1 points per thousand below the European average. The gap is particularly vast when compared to countries such as France (26.6 per thousand), the United Kingdom (25.2 per thousand) and Spain (21.5 per thousand). The chasm is wider for men (-7.2 points per thousand compared to EU27) but does not improve when considering the figures for women.
The data on digital technologies compound this persistently low appeal for STEM degrees, which are cited as the real key to reducing the digital mismatch.
ICT constitutes a strategic component for competitiveness and can even render production systems more sustainable. Having earmarked roughly 27% of the 222 billion resources included in its National Recovery and Resilience Programme for digitisation projects, Italy now stands in a rather unique situation.
An eye on STEM disciplines
ISTAT estimates that ICT professions will account for 4.3% of all jobs in the EU in 2020, yet only 3.6% in Italy. At companies with over 10 employees, more than half of the staff now use internet-connected computers on a daily basis (56% in the EU and 53% in Italy).
However, ISTAT points to the relatively modest incidence of ICT professions, which “points to a systemic deficiency concerning the demand for specialised services amplified by the scarcity of qualified human resources on the supply side”.
In 2020, fewer than 40% of Italian workers in ICT-related jobs held a university education, compared to 66% for the EU as a whole. The divide between Italy and the major European economies is even greater in terms of employment: The number of specialists increased by about 77% in France, 50% in Germany and 35% in Spain in the ten years from 2010 to 2020. Yet that growth was only 18% in Italy. This is all the more reason to intervene in this area with targeted but finally effective policies.