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Digital Europe: Meet the Female Politicians Shaping the Future

Part 1: Austria

Margarete Schramböck, Federal Minister for Digital and Economic Affairs, talks about the most important projects: Digital boot camps, 5G and how to close the gender gap in STEM education

Where does Austria stand in terms of digitalization compared to other European countries?

In the current ranking of the DESI (Digital Economy and Society Index), Austria is ranked 11th in the EU with regard to digital development. In the area of availability and accessibility of digital public services, Austria is also in good mid-range. Austria needs to catch up when it comes to the use of internet services. Our current fit4internet initiative aims to counteract this trend. We want to impart digital skills in a targeted manner so that every Austrian can also participate in digitization. In the area of internet connectivity, we are taking the necessary steps to provide ultra-fast broadband in the future by implementing the Federal Government’s 5G strategy.

However, Austria has what it takes to establish itself as a leading European hub for digital innovation. Our clear goal is to join the Digital 10 – the ten most innovative nations.

Austria already has a conducive environment for digitalization, but what are the main challenges you face when it comes to implementation?

At the moment one of our main goals is to tackle the insecurities and fears of Austrian citizens when it comes to the term “digitalization”. It is important that people understand the chance and possibilities digitalization has to offer for everyone. Therefore, we are trying to promote initiatives like fit4internet that actively point out advantages of digitalization for different age groups. With the program KMU Digital, we are also offering tailor-made support so that business can benefit as much as possible from digitalization as well.

The administration is a key factor to spread digital transformation in society as a whole. The main objective is to involve all stakeholders in the process, ensure know-how transfer between the administrative units, and to develop a common strategy at all levels of public administration. The Federal Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs bundles all initiatives and acts as instigator and stimulator.

How have you integrated digitalization starting with Austria’s educational system?

We want to make people in Austria fit for the digital world. Digital skills are the key to the future. Therefore, the Pact for Digital Competence – an alliance of the economy, educational institutions, and public administration – will enable the way into a digital world and make the population fit for modernization. In this context, the already mentioned fit4internet initiative was established to build digital competencies for citizens. Three focus groups – senior citizens, working middle-aged people with a low affinity for IT, and young people – will be offered digital training tailored to their needs.

Digital applications also open up new opportunities for teaching and learning in education, and the Digitalization in Education master plan secures the necessary strategic foundations this requires. These include the digital school service portal, 3000 new IT training places, mobile devices for secondary level I, basic digital education as a teaching subject, and digitalization as a focus of teacher training.

What kind of strategies have you formulated in order to place Austria at the forefront for digital business investments?

I want our country to play a leading role when it comes to digitalization. My goal is to develop new digital business models and value chains and enable companies to position their products and services successfully on the international market. This leads to high levels of employment and high-quality jobs that guarantee purchasing power. Digital infrastructure is one of the key cornerstones of Austria’s future. We are therefore expanding the 5G network in close cooperation with the Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation, and Technology. The aim is to bring the ultra-fast Internet to the furthest corners of the country.

With Digital Austria we’ve created an umbrella brand combining all strategies and flagship projects for digitalization, and will also serve as a meeting point for experts to discuss and exchange ideas.

SMEs are the backbone of your economy, comprising 99.7% of the country’s businesses. How do you intend to demystify technology for SMEs?

Many Austrian businesses want to make the most of the opportunities which digitalization bring, but don’t know how to go about it yet. The initiative Digital SME helps Austria’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) directly, allowing them to make the best use of their digital opportunities. Businesses benefit from funding for consulting, qualification, knowledge transfer, and further training, thus strengthening the digitalization expertise of Austria as a business location. The program is being restructured and rolled out in 2019.

Businesspeople and especially small and medium-sized enterprises need to catch up when it comes to implementing digitalization. According to the OECD, Austria is more advanced than Germany, but still below the EU28 and OECD average. Through joint action with the Chamber of Commerce, such as the SME Digital Package (in German), it will be possible to increase the degree of digitalization of small businesses and also to make better use of the opportunities offered by digitalization.

What drives you and excites you about digitalization? Do you think digitalization also affects women and creates a paradigm shift in gender equality?

Digitalization is the key factor for growth and competitiveness. There is no industry that is not affected by digitalization. Products, services, and business models are changing; new markets are developing – there are enormous opportunities here. At the same time, the economy benefits from the skills and knowledge of women more than ever. Particularly in view of the progressing digitalization, it is important that women face current and future challenges confidently and seize their opportunities. It is very important for me to increase the number of women in the business community so that they become key players. There is no shortage of suitable women for key positions, but they often lack the necessary network. The European Institute of Gender Equality’s (EIGE’s) research shows that narrowing the existing gender gap in STEM education would lead to economic growth. It is anticipated that the new STEM jobs will produce a great deal of work and be well-paid, resulting in improved EU competitiveness and gradual closure of the gender pay gap.

For the full version of the interview click here 

 

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