Southern Europeans eager to found own business

In Southern Europe enthusiasm abounds for new digital companies, yet the Start-Up Boom and digital career affinity are passing Germany by. The skepticism has three main reasons.

Germans are optimistic about the future, but Italians and Spanish very pessimistic

43 percent of German survey respondents aged between 18 and 30 assume that they will have a better life than their parents’ generation. In Spain, only 29 percent of young adults have the same optimism about the future, and the figure for Italy is just 23 percent.

The economic situation in each of the countries strongly influenced the survey results. While young adults in Italy and Spain believe that digitisation will have a positive impact on their future and that it is one possible way out of unemployment, their counterparts in Germany show a stronger preference for traditional job categories. Although they believe that digitisation does offer opportunities, they do not believe that these opportunities apply to them.

Only a minority are confident that digitisation will create jobs in future

The responses to the question of whether digitisation will cost jobs, create jobs or change the world of work diverged greatly. A minority of respondents (10 to 18 percent) in the six surveyed countries assumed that digitisation would create jobs. Between 27 and 41 percent believed that digitisation was a threat to jobs. Between 33 and 47 percent thought that it would change the world of work. Young people in Italy and Spain fear the biggest loss of jobs as a result of digitisation and those respondents expecting job losses all believe that at least 20 percent of jobs will disappear.

69 percent of young Germans believe the advantages of digitisation outweigh the risks

In an overall assessment of risks associated with digitisation, Britain has the highest percentage of young adults (86 percent) who are of the opinion that the benefits of digitisation outweigh the disadvantages. 74 percent of respondents in Spain, 70 percent in Italy and 73 percent in the Czech Republic share that opinion. Young people in Germany and the Netherlands are less positive, and only 69 percent of them believe that there are more benefits than risks associated with digitisation.

Young Europeans are confident that Europe will play a leading role in the digital future

Young Europeans believe that Europe can play a leading role in digital technology research and development according to the Vodafone Institute survey. However, this positive appraisal is conditional upon Europe investing more in digital skills training so that it doesn’t fall behind other regions of the world.

The young adults’ assessment of their country’s competitiveness varied considerably from nation to nation. In Spain, 49 percent of 18 to 30-year-olds are concerned about their country’s competitiveness and job losses in the wake of digitization. In Italy, 60 per-cent have these concerns, whereas a far lower number of respondents expressed them in the Netherlands (40 percent), the United Kingdom (31 percent), the Czech Republic (36 percent) and in Germany (35 percent).

The Italians and Spanish want to be (digital) entrepreneurs, but that involves too much work for the Germans

Interest in setting up a business or working at a start-up company is particularly high in Italy and Spain. High levels of interest were still expressed by respondents when they were explicitly asked about setting up their own businesses and working for start-ups in the digital sector. 35 percent (Italy) and 32 percent (Spain and the Czech Republic) of young adults who stated that they would be interested in setting up a company gave one of the main reasons as the problematic labour market situation in their country. This factor is not as significant in Germany (18 percent), the United Kingdom (24 percent) or the Netherlands (20 percent).

The main motivation for young Germans to set up their own business is self-fulfilment. In this context, the three main reasons they gave were to implement their own ideas (44 percent), to be their own boss (38 percent) and higher earning potential (29 percent). The young Germans provided the following three explanations for not wanting to set up their own business: too much work involved (46 percent), concerns about putting their work-life balance at risk (43 percent) or fears about not having enough work experience (40 percent).

Young Europeans feel confident

In future, basic digital skills will play a more significant role in the labour market. All young Europeans, particularly the British, agreed with this statement. Many of the Italians and Spanish also believed that digital skills include coding (i.e. programming).

When the respondents were asked about specific skills in the digital economy, it was found that young Europeans believe that today’s skills, such as processing e-mails and using word-processing software, will be important in future, but they do not believe that hardware skills will be necessary to any significant extent. The Italians and Spanish, in particular, accord higher significance to more complex skills than the young adults in other countries. The competencies that the respondents believed to be important tended to be those that they feel confident using themselves. The only exception was data security.

Digital education – bad grades for the general education system

Companies often complain that job applicants do not have the right skill sets. To bridge the “competence gap”, young Europeans suggest close collaboration between companies, schools and universities. There was no consensus among the young adults in the surveyed countries on which institution should have overall responsibility for digital education.

The young British people thought that the general education system should be responsible (49 percent; between 17 and 26 percent in other countries). The nation with the fewest respondents who believed that companies should take the lead in digital skills training is the United Kingdom at 3 percent (between 14 and 26 percent in other countries), and the country with the most respondents who thought that responsibility should be placed in the hands of the corporate sector was Germany (26 percent).

Even though the young Europeans disagreed on the ideal place to learn digital skills, they were unanimous that the worst place to learn them in the digital labour market is the general education system. They suggested that schools should offer more ITC courses, teachers should be better qualified to teach the subject and that pupils should be given more encouragement to use IT equipment outside lessons and courses.

The study has been published in advance of the Vodafone Institute’s conference “digitising europe – opportunities for the next generation”. Multipliers from politics, business, academia and the European start-up scene will discuss how education, work and academia are changing in the wake of increasing digitalisation. Chancellor Angela Merkel will open the conference; further speakers include Vodafone Group CEO Vittorio Colao, Intel President Renée James, start-up founder Dupsy Abiola and machine learning expert Michael A. Osborne. “digitising europe” will take place on 4 December 2014 in Berlin. Information on the programme and speakers can be found at www.digitising-europe.eu