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New Skills Agenda for Europe Could Bring Digital Skills to Millions

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The European Commission unveiled its New Skills Agenda for Europe this month, featuring a number of measures to boost literacy, numeracy and digital skills across Europe. It forms part of the EU’s work to boost the European economy, and help European countries to be more competitive internationally. The inclusion of digital skills at the heart of the Agenda signals a significant step towards raising the level of digital competences for people around the continent.

What is the New Skills Agenda for Europe?

The New Skills Agenda for Europe presents ten key actions to improve skills in Europe, which address skills broadly. There are several actions that have particular relevance to digital skills. The proposed Skills Guarantee could be a significant step in bringing opportunities to develop digital literacy to low-skilled adults. The Guarantee, which will be further developed in the coming months, would target adults without an upper-secondary school qualification, assessing their needs for developing skills, tailoring a learning plan to their needs, and providing the opportunity for certification or validation of their new skills. This chance for people to prove the new skills that they will acquire is essential. We firmly believe that certification of competences is a core part of skills development, and providing internationally recognised qualifications to lower skilled adults could do a lot to help employability, boosting their prospects in the workforce.

Of course, any action on building digital skills needs the cooperation of a range of stakeholders, from the EU to governments of Member States, and organisations involved in education, training and business. The Agenda announces the launch, at the end of 2016, of a ‘Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition’, to continue the work of the existing Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs by bringing these groups together and equip the workforce with the right ICT skills.

There will also be a revision of the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), with a proposal already published by the European Commission. The revision will attempt to make it easier to compare and understand qualifications among the EU Member States, and to make a better use of the skills that are available in the European workforce. We strongly welcome this initiative to review the EQF, and hope that more guidance will become available for how international qualifications, such as ECDL, can be mapped to both the EQF and national qualifications frameworks. The potential benefits for the millions of Europeans who hold international certifications are huge, enabling them to have their hard work and effort of developing their skills, recognised around Europe.

Digital Skills Are at the Heart of the Modern Workplace

While it is important to develop skills in a range of areas, including literacy and numeracy, it is increasingly essential that everyone has the opportunity to build strong workplace digital skills. There are ever fewer jobs that don’t need ICT skills. Every sector of the economy is using or adopting technology, but the benefit of this can only be unlocked by employees with the right competences. As we have seen on this blog before, the problem is that too many workers just don’t have those competences. According to The Telegraph, research by Dropbox and Ipsos Mori found that 31% of employees found workplace technology use to be stressful.

Our recent, ‘Perception and Reality: Measuring Digital Skills in Europe’ paper highlighted the magnitude of the problem, with studies in several European countries finding that workers simultaneously lack the right skills and that they don’t know it. In one study in Switzerland, 67% of participants rated their overall computer skills as “good” or “very good”, but only 31% actually performed that well when tested.

Everyone has a role to play in creating a digitally literate workforce, but leadership on a national and international level will be essential to success. Initiatives, like those in the New Skills Agenda for Europe, will help employers and employees to identify and build the vital ICT competences that will be needed for Europe to boost its economy and remain competitive in the world.

What Next?

ECDL Foundation welcomes the New Skills Agenda for Europe, particularly actions such as the Skills Guarantee—which could do a lot to help people without skills to succeed in the workforce—and the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition. But the legislative proposals that the European Commission has made this month need to remain focussed on their core goal: raising skill levels across Europe. Work on areas like recognising international qualifications and certifications in the EQF, and ensuring that certifying skills is a key part of the Skills Guarantee is essential.

Just over a year ago, we published a post on this blog, highlighting 4 areas for the EU to focus on with digital skills:

  1. Make digital skills a priority at political level
  2. Embed digital skills in the Digital Single Market Strategy
  3. Fund access to digital workplace skills for all
  4. Ensure all students leave school digitally literate

The New Skills Agenda for Europe clearly makes digital skills a priority, and we hope they remain so. It also serves to reinforce the work on digital skills in the Digital Single Market Strategy, the EU’s overarching strategy to complete the single market in the digital sphere. We need to see cooperation from all stakeholders, both national and European, to make sure that there is sufficient funding for delivering workplace digital skills initiatives to people who need them, and continued effort to integrate digital literacy into education systems.

The European Commission’s announcement of the New Skills Agenda for Europe is a significant step forwards in raising digital skill levels in Europe. We hope its vision of greater employability, and more competitiveness and growth in Europe will remain as its different elements are implemented, and ECDL Foundation will work to support the digital skills initiatives that form part of the agenda. The cost to individuals, businesses and society will be too high if we don’t succeed.

10 Key Actions

  1. Proposing a Skills Guarantee
  2. Reviewing the Key Competences for Lifelong Learning
  3. Proposing steps to support the modernisation of VET
  4. Launching a ‘Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition’
  5. Proposing a revision of the European Qualifications Framework
  6. Launching a ‘Skills Profile Tool for Third Country Nationals’ to profile migrants’ skills and qualifications
  7. Proposing a revision of the Europass Framework
  8. Analysing best practice sharing to tackle brain drains
  9. Launching a ‘Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation on Skills’
  10. Proposing an initiative on ‘Graduate Tracking’