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Digital Skills in the Public Sector

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We often discuss the importance of digital skills in the workplace on this blog, but what do digital skills mean in different types of workplace? In businesses and commercially-focused organisations, there is an understandable desire to improve productivity and efficiency because that leads to reduced costs and increased profits for the company.

For the public sector, it is difficult to pick up a newspaper or watch the news on TV without encountering a piece about the need for it to tighten its belt. Even beyond the economising efforts towards greater efficiency, driven by the need to recover from the financial crisis, new technologies are driving demand from both civil servants and members of the public, for new ways of working and communicating.

To meet both of these sets of challenges, and to make sure that the public sector is ready and able to take full advantage of technology, it is clear that enhancing digital skills is just as vital for civil servants, as for their business counterparts. It makes us particularly proud to be working with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (DG RTD) to upskill its staff.

The risks to any workforce of low digital skills are clear. Almost every job requires some form of computer use, whether it be working with spreadsheets to analyse data, collaborating online on shared documents, or managing relationships with customers. It is little different in the public sector, where the data could be demographics of a neighbourhood, the collaborative documents could be new and improved policy guidelines, and the relationships to be managed could be with citizens.

But plenty of evidence tells us that there is a real problem with digital skills, no matter what sector people are in. While launching its New Skills Agenda for Europe, the European Commission itself noted that 40% of the EU population lacks a sufficient level of digital skills. Meanwhile, another report from the European Commission highlights the influence of digital technologies, and consequently the need for digital skills, across a range of types of job, from industrial designer to police detective. It found that, “ICT profoundly affects the work tasks and skills requirements of the profiled jobs”. We recently launched our latest position paper, which reviews studies into digital literacy that were conducted in five countries in Europe. In a study done in Austria by OCG, the ECDL National Operator there, 94% of people described their general computer skills as “average” to “very good”, yet only 39% actually scored that well in practical tests. The results were similar in all the countries in which the studies were carried out. We have a digital skills gap, and it is affecting everyone.

DG RTD has adopted ECDL as part of a push to enhance the existing skills of its staff. Members of staff in the department and in associated agencies will have the opportunity to take the four ECDL Base modules: Computer Essentials, Online Essentials, Word Processing and Spreadsheets. These modules cover the essential areas of day-to-day working with a computer, and the training and certification programme will offer staff a valuable opportunity to develop further professionally and acquire skills that will help them throughout their careers.

ECDL is the programme of choice for many public sector institutions around the world to build digital skills. Governments on almost every continent have endorsed the ECDL programme, or use it to train and certify the digital skills of public servants.

In Europe, ECDL is the only digital literacy qualification listed on the National Inter-Professional List by the French National Inter-Professional Joint Committee on Employment and Training (COPANEF), giving French employees the opportunity to follow ECDL as part of their professional training and development. ECDL has also been recognised by ENSOA, the French national school for Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs), with over 1,000 NCOs achieving ECDL certification. Beyond France, the ministries of education in a 11 Federal States in Germany have endorsed ECDL for use in their school systems, and ECDL is used by the Estonian Ministry of Education as the basis of the state ICT curricula for vocational education and training. In both Ireland and The Netherlands, ECDL is used by the armed forces. In the case of the Irish Defence Forces, over 2,000 staff, soldiers and officers have achieved ECDL certification, with ECDL being a pre-requisite for progression to some appointments within the Irish Army.

ECDL has a role to play in public sectors around the world, not just in Europe. In South Korea, endorsement of ICDL by Korea Productivity Centre, a semi-government organisation, has seen over 100,000 candidates enrol for the programme, while in Vietnam, ICDL has recently been officially endorsed by the Vietnamese Government. A number of projects in the Americas and Africa have also led to the endorsement or recognition of ICDL by national governments, including in Colombia and Nigeria. Across the Middle East and North Africa, ICDL is used by to train public sector employees by governments in Dubai, Iran, Jordan and Qatar.

There’s a lot of evidence that makes it clear that digital skills are both essential in any workforce, and too often lacking. We have frequently argued that there needs to be a strong focus on digital skills training and certification to make sure that workers are able to develop the skills that they need, so we’re delighted to welcome the European Commission to the team of public sector institutions that have the good sense to enhance and build on existing digital competences.