It can sometimes be easy to assume that issues like low levels of literacy or poor numeracy aren’t problems in Europe. But according to figures from the EU, there are approximately 70 million people in Europe who, “lack sufficient reading, writing and numeracy skills, and 40% of the EU population lacks a sufficient level of digital skills.” Missing out on these basic competences can have a big impact on whether a person has access to employment, and can also play a major role in social exclusion.
ECDL Foundation has long argued that fundamental ICT skills are essential for everyone. At a time when all aspects of society are ever more influenced by technology, it is critical that we all have the opportunity to develop these key competences, for education, for the workplace, and for life.
Recognising this core role that digital skills now play in employment and society, the European Commission, working with a wide range of stakeholders, launched the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs in early 2013. Since it was formed, over 80 stakeholders, including companies, providers of education and training, and NGOs, have been involved in contributing towards the Grand Coalition’s goal of promoting ICT education to reduce digital skills gaps.
One of the main ways that organisations have supported the goals of the Grand Coalition has been through pledges. These are firm commitments that stakeholders have made to take action that will help close digital skills gaps. Examples include pledges to offer training, education or certification opportunities to people, to make learning materials widely available, and to develop tools that can be used to measure or encourage the development of digital skills.
As well as pledges, stakeholders have been active in setting up coalitions at national level to push for action to tackle low levels of digital skills. There are now National Coalitions for Digital Jobs in 13 countries, with more on the way. These act to support the broader goals of the Grand Coalition, while helping organisations to work effectively together in each country. Alongside these National Coalitions, ‘Digital Champions’ also play a key role in advocating for digital skills and jobs across the EU.
As an initiative that has been, from the very start, based on cooperation with a wide range of stakeholders, the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs represents a strong and concerted effort to raise the level of digital skills right across Europe. With concrete and measurable pledges, organisations have been able to do measurable and demonstrable actions that will make a real difference to people.
ECDL Foundation has been active in the Grand Coalition from its formation, having made a pledge to introduce New ECDL, and develop ECDL modules on digital marketing and ICT troubleshooting. We have also been a proud a member of the Grand Coalition’s Secretariat, and have supported the engagement of our National Operators of the ECDL programme, particularly in Lithuania, where the head of ECDL Lithuania also serves as the country’s ‘Digital Champion’.
The Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs has achieved a lot over the last couple of years. With the renewed focus and dedication to raising digital skills, which the European Commission has committed to through its New Skills Agenda for Europe, the Grand Coalition will also approach its mission in a reinvigorated way, with its relaunch as the Digital Skills and Jobs coalition in December this year.
With its new sense of purpose, ECDL Foundation welcomes the new focus that the Coalition will have on all sectors of the workforce. It is clear that there are few jobs that won’t be touched by computers; indeed, there are few jobs today that don’t demand, at least basic, ICT skills. We also welcome the attention that will be given to bringing digital skills to the education and training sectors in a bigger way than before. Digital skills are both essential for students’ later careers, and for supporting their access to learning resources while they are in education.
Significantly, it is also encouraging to see that the new Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition will work to achieve political commitments to developing digital skills from Member States, and that there will remain an effort to extend National Coalitions for Digital Skills and Jobs to more countries. When a significant portion of education and training policy is made at a national level, rather than at EU level, the success of any initiative to promote ICT skills will rest on whether Member States engage fully. It’s therefore also positive that there will be more work done to raise awareness of the funding opportunities that exist from the EU, such as the European Structural and Investment Funds, the Youth Employment Initiative, and Erasmus+.
A lot has been achieved since the Grand Coalition first started its work in 2013, but there is much more that needs to be done if Europe is going to remain competitive and have a workforce that can meet the challenges of the future.