Rendez-vous économiques de la Méditerranée : Discussions focusing on Jobs & Digital Sector

The 12th edition of the Mediterranean Economic Summits was held on Thursday November 3rd in the auditorium of the Villa Méditerranée, gathering a number of distinguished guests to participate in two round-table discussions.

Having having introduced the digital issues and their effects, and acknowledging the work achieved in this area by the OCEMO team, Mr. Jean Roatta, Deputy Mayor in Charge of Euro-Mediterranean communication, recalled the major economic, social and cultural challenges that the region was now facing.

North side, south side: the challenge of new power shifts

Participants in the day’s first session all spoke of the importance of new technologies in the creation of jobs, as Mediterranean countries are home to ever-larger and ever-younger populations. They also emphasised the opportunities offered by medium, small and micro-businesses in terms of employability.

The digital factor’s influence on working methods will affect both sides of the Mediterranean and will help to bridge the geographical divide. According to Henri Malosse, member of the Euromed supervisory Committee (part of the European Economic and Social Council), this divide could even disappear altogether. Patricia Augier (FEMISE) mitigated this remark: while digital innovation “is a powerful instrument for integration, the expected effects have not yet fully materialized.” In order to avoid further inequality, public action would be necessary.

For Ms. Badreddine Ouali, President of Tunisia’s Vermeg, digital technologies could also help southern nations catch up with their northern neighbours via a short cut: rather than trying to bridge the gap, new technologies should be adapted to the country. In Tunisia, most of the population owns a smartphone and the 4G network is well-established. As such, it makes more sense to develop mobile technologies rather than installing costly infrastructures in urban areas.

Education: the key to meeting the “digital challenge”

This includes education for young people, but also continued vocational training for older generations in order to ensure their skills do not become obsolete. The participants all agreed on the importance of implementing an educational policy for future roles in the digital sector, as is already the case in Algeria, where a centre of excellence for digital content has been created. For Minister Mohamed Mebarki, the stakes are high: digital jobs could become a genuine alternative to the oil industry.

Ms. Françoise Benhamou, a member of the Cercle des Economistes group and ARCEP board member, recalled the importance of developing “institutional and academic sites” and

therefore setting up social support in order to ensure that technology does not exceed human resources.

As such, Euro-Mediterranean cooperation seeking to support the development of the digital industry would be the “political project of the century” according to Mr. Malosse, who believes the first step to ensuring success must be an association of digital operators working together not only to implement ideas, but also to plan and discuss issues together.

Anticipating future careers

The second session was introduced by Mr. Jean-Louis Reiffers, President of Marseille’s Ecole de la Deuxième Chance, with several speakers giving their opinions on digital enterprise, incentive-based public policies and cooperation. Mr. Nicolas Schmit, Luxembourg’s Minister of Labour, Employment and Social and Solidarity Economy, emphasized the importance of education and his desire to ensure that young people would be ready for the jobs of the future – despite not knowing what those jobs would be. “What has value today may be worthless in 5 years.” The first step is to retrain workers on both sides of the Mediterranean in order to reduce skills inequality.

The digital sector has the power to create and destroy jobs, particularly intermediary jobs which are low-skilled and easily replaceable. Once again, the speakers all emphasized the significant importance of education in this regard. The point was emphasised by Mr. Alain Assouline, President of Webforce3, a digital training institute with the aim of retraining workers in just 3 months in order to respond to the real-time needs of companies.

For Mr. Nicolas Schmit, it is the role of politics, amongst others, to orientatethis significant change.

Digital transition inevitable in every sector

After the round tables, Mr. Jean-Hervé Lorenzi (President of the French Cerle des Economistes) and Mr. Nicolas Schmit made the following remark: digital transition is inevitable and constitutes a definitive shift in the economy and job market. On both sides of the a water, the challenge is not to resist this change but to guide and support the transition.

This industrial revolution is on a par with the rise of the steam engine, and is also uncertain – particularly in terms of employment. It will need to be regulated in order to ensure an equilibrium for the transition. Public policy in terms of digital advances must “be positive above all, in order to encourage the expansion of digital innovation.” The challenge now lies in creating a favourable environment for digital development whose principle operators are the private sector and public action, able to take action in the face of an accelerated evolution and skills being surpassed, support independent workers and decentralisation in order to rebalance regional influence and investment in underlying infrastructures.