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A cross-border hub for startups

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The Luxembourg Minister of Labour, Nicolas Schmit, spoke about Luxembourg’s need to develop the digital skills and talent required by the digital transformation of the economy. He also discussed the need to further encourage entrepreneurship by establishing a legal framework favorable to the aspirations of young people who have bright ideas. (Nicolas Schmit poses in his office. Photograph: Michel Brumat)

Let’s make sure that the digital revolution has positive effects on our labor market and on our welfare, by taking action and thinking now about the future of jobs and work arrangements.

From the point of view of employment, what does the ICT sector represent to you?

The ICT sector represents a significant portion of employment in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Considering the need for digital skills in the ICT sector, as well as across all other economic sectors, we realize that there is a huge challenge for the labor market. Every business today must rely on digital competencies, including both large organizations and innovative startups. To ensure the competitiveness of our economy, it is necessary for us to promote entrepreneurship among young people, encourage the emergence of innovative startups, and also support the development of digital skills that will meet the needs of a wide variety of actors.

Considering the digital revolution that is taking place, how do you see the evolution of the labor market?

The labor market is changing; the evolution is fast. Companies engaged in digital are growing. The skills evolve with the needs. But, furthermore, all the actors of the economy must fully understand the digital transformation of society and evolve in this context. The talent on the market must evolve. This is a major challenge. We must help more people learn these digital skills, and even retrain workers quickly, in order to meet the needs of tomorrow.

the lack of talent extends far beyond Luxembourg. It is, therefore, necessary that we have the capacity to create and develop talent and a strong digital culture at the heart of our educational system.

Have you taken measures in this direction?

An example is the arrival of the coding school WebForce3 to Luxembourg, which aims to satisfy the need to quickly train people from all backgrounds. We can still, I think, deploy other such training programs. I think we need to address this issue across the EU, as well. Unfortunately, when you think about the digital revolution, it is currently focused on infrastructure and technology and not enough on skills and qualifications. Now, this is a great challenge, both economic and societal. The digital revolution is a source of opportunity, but do not overlook the risks it represents for employment. It can create jobs, but it may also tremendously destroy them. It is therefore necessary to be optimistic about what the digital revolution can do for our economy, but organize the transition making sure that people are qualified with the right skills for the new types of jobs.

Today, in Luxembourg alone we would assess the need for developers to be at around 2,000. How do you respond to this lack of developers?

1,500, 2,000, 3,000 or 4,000? It is difficult to specify the exact number. However, it is certain that we lack workers with the right profiles. And in light of future developments in the ICT industry, or in finance with FinTech, we will need people who can support the technological transformation. It is, therefore, our mission to continue to attract international talent, just as Luxembourg has always been able to do. But we cannot be content with just that. Indeed, the lack of talent extends far beyond Luxembourg. It is, therefore, necessary that we have the capacity to create and develop talent and a strong digital culture at the heart of our educational system. This is particularly what the Digital4Education program at our schools is doing. The University of Luxembourg, the Agency for Development of Employment (ADEM) and the new competence center for IT professionals are also designed to meet these needs.

Beyond digital, how can entrepreneurship be promoted in Luxembourg?

Today, many efforts are made in Luxembourg to help startups develop and launch. Several incubators do a great job to support these startups. They include, among others, Technoport and nyuko. A seed fund has also emerged recently to fund youth projects. I strongly believe in social entrepreneurship and support those who lead social projectsWe will also launch an incubator dedicated to these specific kinds of projects. The startup ecosystem in Luxembourg today is very dynamic and interesting. But I think, however, that we must go even further.

Today, Luxembourg offers many advantages to entrepreneurs. In fact, we are realizing that something special is happening in Luxembourg. We must help strengthen what we are seeing develop.

What do you mean?

During the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union, I organized a conference dedicated to the transformation of the labor market in light of digital developments. John Straw, an emblematic figure of this digital era, spoke on the occasion. Subsequently, he offered to discuss with us the means to push Luxembourg further in this innovative digital era. Together, we will talk about what we can do better to encourage innovation. The aim is to be able to both attract new players to Luxembourg and promote innovative entrepreneurship within our borders.

What, precisely, must be done to have this more efficient ecosystem?

I think the ingredients for a more efficient ecosystem are known. It takes appropriate financing systems and the proper infrastructure to have the ability to fill the ecosystem with life and support its growth. Today, Luxembourg offers many advantages to entrepreneurs. In fact, we are realizing that something special is happening in Luxembourg. We must help strengthen what we are seeing develop. The ecosystem lacks an element that would encourage the healthy competition we need to take shape here. Being a small country has many advantages. It enables entrepreneurs to have easier access to the people who can best support their projects. However, there are also disadvantages, including a critical mass problem. It is necessary to create healthy competition and an inspiring environment. If we want to create such an ecosystem and convince foreigners that this is the ideal place to start a project, I think we should think of Luxembourg as part of a territory that extends beyond our borders. We must give ourselves the goal of becoming a startup hub across the Greater Region. It is essential to develop such an environment, in order to convince young people that they can create and grow their projects here; that they don’t need to go to the United States to succeed.

How can we encourage entrepreneurship in general, especially with young entrepreneurs?

Every entrepreneur, young or old, has to be taken seriously. A young person who comes up with an idea and has a desire to create should not be considered suspect. We need to avoid the tendency of putting a spoke in their wheels, which happens all too often. Beyond that, with regard to the transformation that is taking place, which will have a deep impact on the organization of work, I think we need to proceed with an overhaul of our labor laws. Following the trends, it is likely that in the future there will be a spotlight on self-employment. Along with the issues of job destruction and job creation, we will see a profound change in the way work is organized and we need to reconsider the employer-employee relationship. Let’s make sure that the digital revolution has positive effects on our labor market and on our welfare, by taking action and thinking now about the future of jobs and work arrangements.



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