The Ecosystem: European Institute of Innovation and Technology outlines plan to reduce the skills gap

25 Oct 2022 | News

Deep tech talent initiative is seeking pledges from companies and other organisations willing and able to help fill gaps in the high technology workforce

Martin Kern, director of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, at the launch of the Deep Tech Talent Initiative. Photo: EIT.

A new skills programme launched by the European Commission on 11 October, has the broad ambition to train one million people in deep tech fields over the next three years. The scheme is open to anyone from school children up to post-docs and company employees, and the definition of deep tech covers everything from advanced materials and biotechnology, to artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

The goal is to help bridge the skills gap reported by many European high-tech companies, such as start-ups on the EU Unicorns group, so that the EU can be competitive in the next wave of innovation. As set out in the Commission’s European Innovation Agenda, this wave is characterised by technological rather than digital innovation.

“The digital innovation wave has reached its peak. The fourth wave of innovation will combine physical, biological and digital elements,” said Mariya Gabriel, European commissioner for research and innovation, at the initiative’s launch.

The initiative will be driven by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), but much of its detail and delivery will depend on external partners who are now being asked to pledge their support. “I count on the mobilisation of the entire innovation community in Europe, and of the support of member states, to join the call for pledges,” Gabriel said.

The initial offer will be based on training activities developed within the EIT’s nine Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs). “At this stage we are mapping what already exists in the EIT community and beyond, and then listening to those who express an interest in joining the initiative through the pledge, and that will help us to design the right tools,” EIT director Martin Kern told Science Business.

Input through the pledge will include offers to share existing training programmes with the initiative and proposals to collaborate on filling specific skill gaps. Pledges are also expected to provide resources, in cash and kind, on top of the €25 million earmarked by EIT from its own budget.

“Beyond what EIT will contribute, we will also discuss funding with those joining the pledge, with financing partners and businesses wanting to give something back,” Kern said. “We are also looking for synergies with other EU programmes and EU agencies.”

Existing training programmes brought under the deep tech initiative’s umbrella can expect to see an increase in scale and reach. “EIT already has a pan-European network, we are present in every EU country, so if we find a good course in one country, in one area of technology, this can be scaled-up and disseminated. That’s the kind of multiplier effect that we want to see,” said Kern.

Meanwhile, new programmes will be created to meet needs identified through the pledge, or in response to proposals from the EIT community. The immediate needs of industry are likely to be addressed through tailored initiatives, such as the European Battery Alliance Academy, an industry where there is a large skills gap and existing training programmes were not meeting the need.

It is not yet clear how many industry or technology specific programmes such as this will be created. “We already have a broad coverage with the nine KICs, and initially we will focus on a set of key technology areas where we think that skills need to be enhanced,” Kern said.

These technology areas are artificial intelligence and machine learning; advanced materials and manufacturing; biotechnology; blockchain and web 3.0 technology; robotics; aerospace, including drones; photonics; electronics; quantum computing; sustainable energy; and cleantech. These areas have been broadly defined on purpose, to allow pledging organisations to further map out the needs of their industries, and to include synergies with existing programmes.

However, the broad idea is to address technical skills already needed within particular technology fields, and to combine them with emerging technologies from other areas. A good example is artificial intelligence, which can unlock innovations in a range of sectors. “Very often, if you combine different technologies, or apply them beyond their original field, you can create innovations and new businesses,” Kern said.

Universities and schools

Effort will go into training at universities, again building on existing EIT initiatives. Many higher education institutions already participate in the EIT, and close to 5,000 graduates have already passed through EIT-labelled programmes. These combine technical skills with entrepreneurship skills, and the initiative will expand and build on this work.

This will begin with the third call under the EIT HEI Initiative, which will focus on creating and developing deep tech programmes, or building exchanges between universities across Europe to transfer skills. “The first two calls were very open, but the next call will focus more on the contribution to the deep tech initiative,” Kern said. “It will also be the final call of the pilot phase of this initiative, and that will automatically lead to a stocktaking of how we go on from there.”

The addition of entrepreneurship to technical training is seen as particularly important. “When someone exits a more technical field at a university, it is not always the case that they are comfortable or equipped to create a company. So, programmes that are already at a high level technically could add more on entrepreneurship, to create talents that have the confidence to start their own companies,” said Kern.

The aim is also to bring participants into the EIT community, where they will benefit from contacts with like-minded people and can connect with the EIT’s incubator and accelerator programmes. “We can offer more than just these training programmes. We can help those talents to become part of a pool, a community across Europe, and they can benefit from that,” Kern said.

In schools, the aim is to increase interest in careers in science and technology, and so boost absolute numbers in the talent pool. Girls Go Circular, an online learning programme initially launched in central and eastern Europe, teaches girls aged 14-19 digital and entrepreneurial skills and will be expanded. “Through that, you get more girls and women interested in technology, and that creates a broader base of those who may then go on to university or to work in tech business areas,” said Kern.

While these activities in schools and at the undergraduate level in universities will have little impact on the immediate skills gaps in industry, they are seen as important for the broader health of the European ecosystem. “Those who pass through these programmes should become part of a community pool of talents that can work in different fields, who can also connect and stay connected,” Kern said. “They will benefit from being part of this initiative, and the EIT community beyond the training itself, at whatever level or in whatever technology that involves.”

Although the initiative has a narrow window of just three years in which to make its mark, Kern sees it as just a start. “This needs more than just a one-off push, it is something that should be done continuously,” he said. It also needs to match the speed with which technology is developing. “If anything, that speed is accelerating, so logically the training provision must also accelerate.”

Elsewhere in the Ecosystem…

  • The European Investment Bank has strengthened its commitment to the creation of a European Cybersecurity Investment Platform, to help close the finance gap in the sector. “I am confident that this investment platform will mobilise considerable additional investments to retain cybersecurity companies in Europe, bringing about economic development and growth,” said EIB vice president Kris Peeters. “We stand ready to support this sector with finance and technical assistance.” His comments accompanied a report detailing options for creating the platform, published jointly with the European Commission.
  • Shift4Good, a Paris-based venture capital fund dedicated to sustainable mobility, has closed its first fund at more than €100 million. It plans to invest in approximately 30 start-ups over the next five years, focusing on series A and B rounds. Two-thirds of its investments are expected to be in the EU, one-third in the rest of the world, with a focus on South East Asia. Major investors in the fund include Renault, Bpifrance, and the European Investment Fund.
  • Europe’s Unified Patent Court has announced the names of its 85 judges, and the members of its governing presidium. The court will be led by Klaus Grabinski, from Germany, as president of the Court of Appeal, and Florence Butin, from France, as president of the Court of First Instance. The list comprises legally and technically qualified judges, the latter assigned to work in the fields of biotechnology, chemistry and pharmaceuticals, electricity, mechanical engineering, and physics. The Court is expected to open on 1 April 2023.

Never miss an update from Science|Business:   Newsletter sign-up