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Digital Skills Should be at the Heart of the European Skills Initiative

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Skills will be high on the European Commission’s agenda this summer, with the anticipated publication of its European Skills Initiative. The document will set out the Commission’s approach to developing skills in Europe, so it represents an important opportunity to ensure that the digital skills of people across Europe are boosted. Indeed, the Initiative is expected to feature digital skills as a core area for development.

We think it is critical that digital skills will feature prominently in the European Skills Initiative. After all, they are vital for increasing employment and fostering economic growth in Europe. When we are facing high unemployment, strong competition from around the world, and a possibly fragile recovery from the economic crisis, making sure that our workforce keeps up with the pace of technological change, and is capable of benefiting from the enormous opportunities that computers bring, is essential. That said, it remains important that the Initiative takes a broad approach. Digital literacy is one part of the jigsaw in creating a better skilled workforce.

At ECDL Foundation, we have been involved in activities to promote digital skills around Europe for a long time. Through our certification programmes, our policy work highlighting the dangers of overlooking computer skills, as members of the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs, and partners in the EU’s e-Skills for Jobs campaigns, we’ve long argued for increasing ICT skills, and for more focus on ensuring that everyone has the chance to build these competences. Working to raise the skills of new entrants to the workforce, we’ve published a number of position papers arguing for a better approach to teaching e-skills at school, and warning of the dangers of assuming that young people have innate digital skills.

Everyone Needs Digital Skills

Digital skills are essential for the workplaceWe are rapidly approaching a time when almost all jobs will require digital skills. Even today, it is hard to think of a job that isn’t, at least partially, reliant on computers. ICT skills are essential in the workplace; from shops to offices, and even farms, technology is playing an ever greater role in work, and workers need to be able to keep up with the pace of change in order to develop in their careers and remain competitive on the job market.

This is especially true for new entrants to the workforce, who need to build their practical office and employability skills, and for older re-entrants to the labour market, who often find the work environment has moved on, while their skills have stayed put.

But it isn’t only workers who are at risk if they don’t keep their skills current. Businesses and organisations of all kinds face the danger of losing business and working inefficiently if they cannot take advantage of the benefits of ICT.

It is incredible then that, according to the EU’s Digital Inclusion and Skills Scoreboard, 47% of people have insufficient digital skills and 23% have no digital skills at all! We know from extensive studies as well, that not only do people lack sufficient digital skills, they mostly aren’t aware of this.

Last year, we published a post on this blog proposing four areas for the EU to focus on with digital skills. They were:

  • Make digital skills a political priority at the national level
  • Embed digital skills in the Digital Single Market Strategy
  • Fund access to digital workplace skills for all
  • Ensure all students leave school digitally literate

These areas remain just as important today if we want to truly unlock the potential of digital technologies in driving increased employment and reinforcing European economic competitiveness. We’ve seen steps towards a greater national focus on digital skills through the launching of new national coalitions for digital skills and jobs in a number of countries. But we need more work on placing digital skills at the heart of the Digital Single Market Strategy; making more funding sources available to support broad access to digital workplace skills; and on making sure that school leavers are digitally literate.

It is welcome then, that digital skills are likely to feature prominently in the European Skills Initiative when it is launched in May, and that there is a particular focus on building digital skills for young people. Without a strong focus on ITC skills, we face the real danger of Europe falling behind.