Identifying and Meeting Digital Skills Needs in the European Chemical, Pharmaceutical, Rubber, and Plastics Industry – Social Partner Initiative to prepare the Sector now and for the Future

The digital transformation is one of the main drivers of change in all sectors in the European Union and globally, and the chemical, pharmaceutical, rubber, and plastics industry are no exception. To the contrary, production processes and innovations in the sector change at a staggering pace, and there are clear signs that this speed accelerating even further.

The European the chemical, pharmaceutical, rubber, and plastics industry currently stays at the forefront of developing and integrating digital solutions and the use of artificial intelligence into its processes, and thus stays competitive in a global market. This is a clear benefit for the European Single Market, employment in the sector the European economy overall.

Hand in hand with the digital transformation goes that the workforce in the chemical, pharmaceutical, rubber, and plastics industry needs to develop and be trained increasingly in digital and social skills. It is thus important for companies, workers, managers, vocational training institutions and universities to be prepared and to communicate and teach the specific digital skills that are needed.

As the recent study “Digital transformation on the workplace of the European Chemicals Sector”, as part of the EU-funded social partner project between the European Chemical Employers’ Group (ECEG) and industriAll European Trade Union has shown, the first wave of digitalisation, (i.e. digitising analogue data and integrating cloud solutions) is successfully accomplished in the European chemicals sector, even though the implementation rate increases with the company size, where especially the implementation rate of digital solutions in micro and small enterprises (<50 employees) is lagging.

Given the extreme speed of the digital transformation, it has also become clear that the chemical, pharmaceutical, rubber, and plastics industry is not yet sufficiently prepared for the future development. The study also found that the second wave of the digital transformation, starting now and coming into full effect within the next five or so years, will be driven by the Industrial Internet of Things, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, automation and augmented reality.

Against this background it has also been diagnosed that currently basic digital skills are broadly existing in the chemical, pharmaceutical, rubber, and plastics sector. However, more advanced digital skills and transversal skills require the full and urgent attention by all stakeholders in the industry: employers, managers, trade unions, vocational training institutions and universities alike.

The project partners Ledarna, ECEG and FECCIA, together with industriAll European Trade Union, who have been invited and accepted to be an active project observer, altogether representing the chemical, pharmaceutical, rubber, and plastics industry within the EU 28, would therefore like to initiate a new project to identify and anticipate the digital skills needed in the sector. The main objectives are

  • to find pragmatic solutions as to how to upskill the current workforce on all levels (workers and managers) within a very short time frame on the digital and transversal skills needed now,

  • to also look at vocational education and training (VET) and university curricula with regard to digital, transversal and social skills to make sure that young people who are going to train or study to work in the future in the chemical, pharmaceutical, rubber, and plastics sector in the future possess the required advanced digital skills and qualifications, and to develop on the basis of these findings an integrated Life Long Learning (LLL) concept for digital skills.

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