COMMENT

Google EMEA head: There's a 'tremendous opportunity' to modernize education

NIKO EFSTATHIOU

TAGS: Technology, Education

“Much like the crisis has accelerated the use of technology, technology can now accelerate the exit from the crisis.” With this optimistic message, last month President of EMEA Business & Operations for Google Matt Brittin announced the company’s ambitious new initiative called Grow Greece with Google: an overarching public-private partnership that aims to support the country’s recovery through the use of innovative technology.

In the program’s first phase, digital skills take precedence. Through a memorandum of cooperation recently signed between Google and the Greek Manpower Employment Organization, more than 3,000 young unemployed Greeks will cultivate their digital skills by participating in Google’s cutting-edge training programs free of charge. During the second phase of the programs, the participants will be paired with a number of companies and gain paid work experience for a period of six months.

On the occasion of the announcement of the company’s new initiative, in the context of this year’s digital Delphi Economic Forum, Kathimerini spoke to Brittin about bridging the digital skills gap as well as Google’s keen interest in intensifying its presence in the nascent Greek technological ecosystem.
 

The Grow Greece with Google initiative is groundbreaking, but it is not the first partnership with the Greek state with a focus on digital skills training. In 2015, you launched the Grow Greek Tourism online program. Five years later, what is your assessment of that first partnership?

Indeed, we first launched Grow Greek Tourism online five years ago, roughly around the same time that I assumed my new role with Google. At the time, the European Union had just published its first findings on the digital skills gap, estimating that up to 1 million jobs could stay unfilled. That was precisely why, in partnership with the governments of Europe, we started launching targeted programs like Grow Greek Tourism online in order to bridge this gap. Our initial target for such training programs was to reach a milestone of 1 million across Europe. Very quickly, however, we realized that we needed to make sure that the training had an impact. After all, there would be no point in training 1 million people if they swiftly returned to past practices. Thus, we started to refine our service by tracking how many people who had received training could report that the program had helped them grow their business. The results in Greece were particularly encouraging. A total of 64% of the 140,000 people we trained through Grow Greek Tourism Online reported that we helped them grow their business, while one in five reported either getting a new job or significantly progressing in their career. So there were some really good, outcome-based lessons for us on what type of content actually worked.

Did the success of the first pilot initiative lead you to deepen your cooperation with the Greek state this year?

The pandemic was definitely an accelerator, for obvious reasons. We have witnessed the number of people interested in our digital skills programs triple across Europe because of the exponential rise of digitization of businesses and services. In short, a combination of the encouraging results of our first partnership as well as growing interest is what led to the new Grow Greece with Google initiative, in collaboration with the Ministry of Labor. At the same time, we are introducing a wide array of programs, including new tools such as Job Search – released in Greece at the beginning of June – to assist people with the peculiarities of the employment market after the pandemic. 

Despite a few ambitious initiatives, Greece remains at the bottom of most European lists that rank the workforce’s digital literacy. In parallel with the new collaboration, what measures do you think should be taken to make the country competitive in the new world economy brought forth by the fourth industrial revolution?

A very important factor is the revolution and digitization of education, which, if done well, can act as an equalizer. At a broader level, European governments can do much more with the education system, using the findings they reaped after the recent, massive experiment with remote learning. I have two children, and I recently realized they are taught exactly the same things, in exactly the same manner, as I was years ago. At the same time, outside of school they can learn to speak a foreign language fluently through an app. There is currently a tremendous opportunity to modernize education, and to change the way it works. Teachers could spend more time coaching individual children and less time broadcasting their teaching – which could be done by following online courses.

Through your recently announced initiatives, as well as other collaborative projects like Greece From Home, it seems like Google has rapidly increased its communication and cooperation with the Greek state. How do you see this relationship evolving in the future?

Google is still a young company, so one of the things we try to do is be present and take part in the conversation about technology and its role in shaping the future. You earn that opportunity over time by what you do and how you conduct yourself. Our previous experience with the Ministry of Tourism in 2015 was incredibly helpful – both parties learned a lot through the collaboration. With the current government, there is a degree of openness and understanding of technology and its transformational impact. This has led to a boost in our collaborations, and we have seen the government opening up its views on data and starting to have smart policies on how technology will play a role. Overall, we are witnessing a period where technology has become very pervasive very quickly. The analogy is like going from small villages to a big metropolis. In a small village, citizens all know each other so they don’t need regulations, they can self-normalize things. In a big metropolis, rules, laws and processes have to be put in place to guarantee that life goes on smoothly and securely. We are currently in this phase of updating those rules – a process led by the EU – and I think the Greek government is now more ready to be actively involved in those debates.

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