Europe’s digital society – DESI 2021 report


Human capital is one of the four major areas described in The Digital Economy and Society Index (Digital Economy and Society Index, DESI). This annual report is the result of the monitoring carried out by the European Commission since 2014 in respect to the progress of the European Union Member States in the field of digitization. The diagnoses presented in that report direct the attention of national and EU authorities to factors that should be treated as priorities in the planned activities. What does Europe's digital society look like in the latest report? You can learn that from this article.

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Image acknowledgement: Markus Spiske, source:

“In the world of tomorrow, we must rely on digitally empowered and capable citizens, a digitally skilled workforce and experts in the field of digital technologies. Clear responses will be needed to manage demographic trends and close existing skills gaps within the context of the digital and green transitions.”

These are the first two sentences of part of the DESI 2021 report dedicated to human capital that effectively indicates the direction of development for at least the next decade. And what is the starting point and, thus, the current state of the digital society in Europe?


Human capital in Europe - a general description

In the DESI 2021 report, the human capital dimension encompasses two elements: internet user skills and advanced skills and development. The former is based on the number and complexity of activities involving the use of digital devices and the internet. The latter includes indicators on ICT (Information and Telecommunications Technology) specialists, ICT graduates and enterprises that provide dedicated ICT training.

 table 1 EN

At present just over half of the European population possesses basic digital skills (56%) and basic software skills (58%). A substantial disproportion is observed between young adults (under 24 years old) and individuals with higher formal education when compared with individuals over 55 years and retired people. Slightly over 80% of people from the first category have basic skills as compared to 30% in the second group. A gap between urban and rural populations is also clearly visible. The basic skills of these populations are at  62% and 48% respectively.

table EN 2


Internet user skills

The issue of internet use among Europeans' reveals this to be significantly better than their digital capabilities. Some 91% of all households in Europe have Internet access. 86% of individuals were regular internet users (using it at least weekly), while almost 80% were using it either every day or almost every day.

Only about 1% of the adult population in Sweden, Luxembourg and Denmark have never used the internet. Nevertheless, there are still countries such as Bulgaria and Greece where approx. 20% of people admitted to not using the internet.

Barriers to Internet access

As indicated in DESI 2021 report there are four main reasons for not having internet access at home in Europe. Lack of requirement or interest as well as insufficient skills are the top two reasons. These reasons were given by 45% of the respondents. 25% of respondents indicated high equipment costs and 23% stressed high price of services.

ICT specialists and graduates

The European market, similar to all over the world, is experiencing a shortage of skilled ICT specialists. 55% of businesses attempting in 2020 to hire people with such skills reported problems with finding suitable candidates. Even greater shortages can be observed in currently key areas: cybersecurity and data analysis. 


table EN 3

This situation is compounded by a lack of suitable specialist educational programmes in the fields of artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and quantum engineering. It is not surprising, therefore, that in this context over 79% of companies see the lack of people with appropriate digital skills as a barrier to further development.

In 2020 8.4 million ICT specialists were employed in the European Union, which accounts for 4.3% of the entire workforce. 3.1 million (nearly 37%) of that workforce were employed in two Member States - Germany and France.

table EN 4

Women in ICT

Another aspect highlighted in the DESI 2021 report concerns the percentage of women employed in ICT specialist roles. Women accounted for 18.5% of ICT specialists in the European Union in 2020. The highest percentage, nearly one third, is seen in Bulgaria. In contrast, in countries such as Czech Republic, Malta and Hungary nearly 9 out of 10 ICT specialists were men.

 table EN 5

ICT graduates

Increasing market demand for employees with appropriate digital skills results in an increasing number of ICT graduates. Their number however is still too small to fill all the vacancies.

The latest data indicates that ICT graduates in the European Union accounted for 3.9% of all graduates. The highest percentage of ICT graduates was reported in Estonia (8%), Ireland (7.8%) and Finland (7.4%). At the same time, ICT graduates accounted for less than 3% of all graduates in Belgium, Cyprus, Portugal and Italy.

table EN 6

Improvement of employees’ ICT skills

For some of the companies the ICT training is a way to obtain digitally skilled employees. ICT training and courses for employees are provided by 20% of all enterprises in the European Union. In the SME segment this percentage is 18%, while for large enterprises it is 68%.

table EN 7

Finland, with 38% of enterprises providing ICT training, is the clear leader. Results above 30% can also be observed in Belgium, Denmark and Sweden. Bulgaria and Romania are at the other end of the scale with 7% and 6% of enterprises respectively providing such training.

Digital compass 2030 - plans for the future

In March 2021 the European Commission adopted a new strategy in the domain of socioeconomics – Digital Compass 2030. Its strategy defines the key directions of Europe’s digital transformation.

The objective of the European Union in respect to basic digital skills for 2030 is that a minimum 80% of the population should possess such skills. This will be an extraordinarily difficult challenge considering that this increase was just 0.9% during the years 2015–2019. (from 54 to 56%).

Plans for the number of ICT specialists are equally ambitious. According to the Digital Compass, there should be at least 20 million ICT specialists in the European Union Member States by 2030. Considering the increases over previous years, meeting this target will not be an easy task.

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