Strategic Foresight Report 2021: the EU's capacity and freedom to act
The 2021 Strategic Foresight Report by the European Commission presents a forward-looking and multi-disciplinary approach, gathering different perspectives on Europe's capacity and freedom to act in the upcoming years. The report is based on an expert-led, cross-sectoral foresight process - i.e. one oriented towards the future.
As such, the 2021 Strategic Foresight Report takes stock on global trends and tries to look at the potential uncertainties and choices that will shape Europe's future.
The report builds on 2020 Strategic Foresight Report of the Commission, which introduced resilience for the first time as a new priority in EU policymaking. It looks at 4 global trends and their potential to influence the future of the continent. The image below, taken from the report itself, illustrates the interdependencies between the 4 trends - and how one decision in a policy area may pose a 'butterfly effect' on others.
What about digital?
The Strategic Foresight Report for 2021 outlines two virtual 'checks' the European Union needs to tick if it wants to support the development and uptake of new technologies - and consequently, reinforce EU tech sovereignty in key areas. First, digital transformation processes have to accelerate and additional support to innovation and research should be provided. Second, human knowledge and advanced digital skills underpin virtually all areas of the report, and this reflects recent changes and progress.
Estimates in the report illustrate how important it is to capitalise on the advances of technology, given the rapid speed of change. According to one estimate, the number of connected devices could skyrocket over the next decade - from 30.4 billion in 2020 to 200 billion in 2030.
But this increased connectivity does not just translate into new products, services, business models and work patterns - it also highlights the importance of fostering advanced digital and ICT skills for the entire population and workforce in Europe. And this need is critical: with increased connectivity comes an increased risk of cyber attacks that have the potential to impact not just the virtual, but also the physical world we live in. Challenges like intellectual property theft, major data breaches, data loss, and coordinated attacks against essential infrastructures such as hospitals and supply chains, require a digitally-savvy workforce with key security and network skills.
Skills versus automation: what has changed?
The 2021 Strategic Foresight Report also takes stock of the projected impact on the labour market that automation and the increased development and uptake of technologies like AI and machine learning poses. And this landscape has undergone a massive shift. According to the report,
"Just in the EU in 2018, about 14% of adult workers were found to face a very high risks of automation. In the future, 50% of current jobs globally could be automated, with significant differences across countries and sectors. New jobs will appear, but will require new skills".
Harnessing the job opportunities of the twin transformations will require policy action supporting the transition to new types of jobs. This includes support to regions and workers in sectors that will undergo transition and the right mix of incentives and framework conditions for companies from traditional and new sectors. Adjustments in education and training systems will also be needed, as skills requirements and education levels are increasing fast in the green and digital economy, faster than in the economy overall.
What does this mean?
The picture is not all gloom, but upskilling young people has never been more important. The Strategic Foresight Report estimates that the future EU labour force will be 'better educated and more capable of adapting to the changing nature of work and augmented intelligence'.
By 2050, 54% of all job market participants are projected to have post-secondary education.
The next generation is increasingly ready for the digital transition, although the challenge of bridging the digital skills gap and getting more young women to study STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) subjects remains.