The annual mutual learning event hosted by AER, the Brussels Capital Region and the Government of Catalonia took place on 4 December 2019 in Brussels. The theme of the event was “Economy 4.0: shaping a future that works for everybody“. This was the fourth edition of this unique conference format.
The day kicked off with an opening address and welcome by the hosts, Jean Luc Vanraes, AER Vice President for Cooperation & Strategic partnerships, Brussels Capital Region and Lluís Juncà, General Director for Economic Promotion, Competence and Regulation, Generalitat de Catalunya.
Fabrizia Benini, Head of Unit, Digital Economy and Skills, DG CONNECT, European Commission then gave the European Commission’s view on the Economy 4.0 and pointed out some shocking statistics including
“Only 1 in 5 enterprises in the EU are highly digitised”
“1/3 workers don’t have digital skills”
These set the tone for the discussion on what regions can do to promote digital innovation and how we can equip European citizens with the necessary digital skills for the economy of the future.
The most dynamic part of the morning session took the form of the parallel discussion groups on the Future of Work, Innovation, Sustainability and Creative Bureaucracy. These were initiated by a pitch “battle” whereby four of the invited guest speakers pitched the topics of their discussion groups to the audience and explained why their topic was the most pressing.
The discussion groups afforded AER members and participants the opportunity to dig deeper into their chosen topic and exchange experiences with a range of experts from civil society, industry, academia and the public sector.
In the Future of Work discussion group, participants reflected on how to build a workforce fit for purpose in a radically changing environment & how we can foster skills that will be “expensive” in the cyber arena.
Turning to Innovation, this discussion group examined how regions should help businesses, and specifically SMEs, to innovate and flourish in a winner takes all economy.
The disruptive nature of the Economy 4.0 also has an impact on the role of governments, which is why the Creative Bureaucracy discussion group centred their thinking on how the public services of tomorrow should be designed.
As the Economy 4.0 is also a resource-intensive economy, the Sustainability discussion group looked at the challenges facing regions in the transition to a greener economy for the future and the opportunities presented by digitalisation to use our resources more efficiently.
The Economy 4.0 event not only allowed participants to discuss some of the biggest issues facing Europe’s citizens and regions in the digital era. It also presented solutions in the form of information on support & funding opportunities for regional stakeholders.
Dana Eleftheriadou, Head of Advanced Technologies Team at the European Commission’s DG GROW held a detailed info-session on how regions can get involved in the Digital Europe programme. These include the 100 Intelligent Cities Challenge, support to European regions in industrial transition, Smart Specialisation Platform for Industrial Modernisation & the European Social Economy Regions (ESER).
Hugo Thienpont, Vice-Rector of Innovation & Industrial Relations from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel subsequently gave a presentation on support to SMEs in Europe’s regions using photonics. Photonics are a key digital technology driving innovation and the photonics innovation incubator ActPhast4.0 is a project funded by the European Commission via Horizon2020.
The mutual learning aspect of the Economy 4.0 event was furthered through the best practices shared by a variety of stakeholders of the digital economy who showcased their ways of innovating and working in the digital economy for participants. They included:
- Athalis D. Kratouni, Co-Founder & CEO, Tenbera
- Eva Lundin, Senior Adviser, Hedmark County Council
- Tom Husson, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, Humain.ai
- Floor Smit, Senior Consultant & Business Developer, Koos Service Design
An action-packed day of exchanges, tackling challenges and seeking solutions, the mutual learning event is a cornerstone of the AER calendar.
Speaking at the event, AER President, Magnus Berntsson, stressed how timely such a conference is.
Society is at a turning point. We are currently faced with challenges that require collective intelligence and action from all stakeholders in society. We see challenges such as an ageing society, digital transformation and perhaps the biggest challenge of our time – climate change.
He continued by emphasising the need to take time to reflect, think outside the box and exchange with partners.
“We need spaces like this where we can challenge ourselves and share perspectives”
He concluded by reiterating the commitment of the Assembly to continue to assist its member regions as we transition together from looking at Economy 4.0 as a topic of tomorrow, to a subject of pertinence today.
All of the presentations from throughout the conference will shortly be available online here.