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Digital Skills in Europe: 4 Areas to Focus On

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Two years into its work, the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs has achieved a lot, and recognising the need to continue pushing to develop digital skills in Europe, DG CONNECT, the EU’s digital department, recently published a blog post titled, ‘Here’s how we will improve digital skills and create more jobs in Europe’. It’s more important than ever to ensure that workers in Europe have the skills that both they, and the economy, need; a fact that is highlighted in the post:

“Moreover, there is a need for digital skills for nearly all jobs where digital technology complements existing tasks. In the near future 90% of jobs - in careers such as engineering, accountancy, nursing, medicine, art, architecture, and many more - will require some level of digital skills.”

The urgency of this situation is shown in numerous studies and surveys on the digital competencies of workers and job-seekers. According to figures from the EU, only half of workers across Europe judged their current ICT skills as being sufficient for the labour market. That falls to as low as 26% in some countries, and needs to be seen in the context of research in Austria showing that people frequently overestimate their digital skills. Employers have similar reservations about the skills of their workforces, with a survey in the UK revealing that 48% of employers did not believe that their workforces had the right digital skills to meet future challenges. The EU’s DESI indicator also highlights the problem, with less than half of the workforce in the EU having ‘above basic’ digital skills.

With much to be done, the European Commission’s recent blog post sets out seven points for the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs to focus attention on in the move towards a digital Europe of growth and competitiveness. ECDL Foundation strongly welcomes these positive steps forward, and we’d like to take this opportunity to present four areas that we think deserve special attention, in order to achieve the most in promoting digital skills.

Make Digital Skills a Political Priority at the National Level

Digital skills need to be a top political priority at all levels. As a fundamental part of helping Europe to realise the benefits of ICT, it’s great to see the European Commission tackling ICT skills at the highest levels. With the figures above showing such a dangerous gap in digital skills, this attention is critical. But keeping digital skills on the list of priorities for national politicians will also be crucial to making sure that workers can develop their ICT competencies and that employers can get the skills they need for the future. Commissioner Oettinger’s commitment to engage with Member States on digital skills policies is something that we strongly welcome.

Embed Digital Skills in the Digital Single Market Strategy

The Digital Single Market Strategy, which will be launched soon, presents a tremendous opportunity for Europe to reap the benefits of a digital economy. Breaking down the digital barriers between countries will help drive economic growth, just as the single market did for the offline economy. But if workers don’t have the skills to function in a digital world, then they, and their employers, stand to miss out on these benefits. That’s especially true for countries that already lag behind on digital skills. ICT skills are the key that can unlock the Digital Single Market Strategy, and it is vital that they form part of the Strategy, when it is announced this spring.

Fund Access to Digital Workplace Skills for All

Ultimately, developing skills costs money; while there are a number of funding sources for projects that aim to boost peoples digital skills, we need to do more to make sure that this funding is helping to support the development of the essential digital skills for the workplace that everyone needs. While it is important that skills gaps in the professional IT sector are addressed, Europe risks falling behind if the skills of the whole workforce aren’t brought up to date. Making sure that funding is in place, and that it is well-known about, for basic digital skills training programmes for those in work, and for job-seekers, through initiatives like the European Social Fund and the Youth Employment Initiative, should be a core area of focus.

Ensure All Students Leave School Digitally Literate

When society is going online more and more, digital literacy can be considered as an essential part of education, alongside the more traditional literacy and numeracy. Even though there is a temptation to believe the fallacy that young people are ‘digital natives’, innately possessing digital skills, when we fail to actively equip children with fundamental ICT skills, we are doing both them, and our society, a disservice. Every child should have the opportunity to gain fundamental digital literacy at school, learning how to safely and effectively navigate the digital world in a structured and formal way, and helping them when they enter the labour market. ICT skills deserve their place alongside the longstanding ‘reading, writing and arithmetic’, as skills that equip children for whatever they go on to do, from computer science to agriculture, and everything in between.

The Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs has achieved a lot since it was formed, and with the right focus it’s sure to achieve a lot more. Above all, we need to focus on making sure that everyone has the skills they need for the digital future of Europe, regardless of what sector they work in. Making skills central to the Digital Single Market, investing in training, and equipping school pupils with fundamental digital literacy, are three good areas for attention.

The European Commission clearly recognises the urgent need to tackle the digital skills gap that risks holding Europe back, and we look forward to supporting this through our work to promote digital skills, and our certification programmes, which millions of people have already used to prove their readiness for the digital workplace.