Brussels, 29 Oct 2002
Anna Diamantopoulou, European Commissioner responsible for Employment and Social Affairs outlined the challenge facing Europe's knowledge society in a televised speech to the 'Social and human capital in the information society' conference in Brussels on 28 October.
She told the conference that 'with the dot.com boom and bust of the 90s behind us, we can now take a closer, more realistic, and more measured look at what the knowledge society holds for the Europe of today and tomorrow.'
She described the knowledge society as being at 'the heart of the strategy agreed at the Lisbon Summit - to make Europe a global economic front-runner by the year 2010. To make businesses more competitive, innovative and dynamic. To make our workforce more skilled and adaptable. To achieve full employment or at least as close as we could get. And to significantly reduce poverty, exclusion and marginalisation.'
She explained that 'human capital' - the knowledge, skills and attributes that a person holds as vital to achieving these goals - is the most important input into the knowledge-based economy. 'If we are to maximise the potential of the new economy, our workforce must be skilled and trained. To meet new labour market needs. To meet the demands of new and rapidly changing technologies.'
Although over the past 5 years, over 60 per cent of all new jobs created have been in the high-skilled sectors she outlined the problems that must be overcome.
'Yet we see that 150 million EU citizens lack even a basic level of secondary education; school drop out rates have reached up to 25 per cent in some countries; land less than 10 per cent of adults take part in further education and training.'
She explained, 'fewer and fewer jobs can be filled with only a basic education. Skills to operate computers are vital. But so are conceptual and interpersonal skills. The ability to work in teams, to solve problems, to innovate. Self-management and communication skills. All these are increasingly sought after by employers. The message is clear: Skills, training and education are vital for Europe's future economic growth, productivity, well being and sustainability.'
She claimed that ICT and the knowledge society are not panaceas 'We must not create a new class division of 'digital haves' and 'digital have-nots'. Whether between countries, regions, groups or individuals.'
She warned that we must look at how the knowledge society is affecting the other aspects of life not least how we work. 'On the positive side, ICTs allow us to do jobs in more flexible ways. Opening doors to new, innovative, ways of working and organising our working time differently. Allowing greater flexibility in the workplace. Improving the quality of work and job satisfaction. At the same time though, new technologies can mean more stress and information overload. Impacting negatively on relations at work and at home.'
According to the Commissioner the EU is firmly focused on making the knowledge economy and society work for Europe. 'Investing in both human and social capital. Turning the spotlight on improving and modernising education and training systems. Creating a culture of education and life-long learning for people of all ages. Increasing access to new technologies. Encouraging governments and public services to get online.'
Finally, she described how this is being tackled though a broad range of policies, programmes and initiatives including the Employment Process, the European Social Fund, the Social Inclusion strategy, European level social dialogue and the eEurope 2005 action plan.