A strong digital economy is vital for innovation, growth, jobs and European competitiveness. The digital age is no doubt having a massive impact on the labour market and the type of skills needed in the economy and society as a whole.
The full potential for improving education through ICT in Europe remains yet to be discovered and this is exactly why the European Commission is developing policies and supporting research in a bid to prepare youth for 21st century life and work.
According to Eurostat, 57% of Europeans have basic or above basic overall digital skills. Malta scores exactly the same as the European average. In the EU, 3% or 7 million of workers are employed in the advanced technology sector and by next year, the industry would need an additional 800,000 jobs.
So, what is the EU doing to up the skills of today’s learners, youth and other job seekers?
The European Commission’s Digital Education Action Plan, launched in 2017, sets out how education and training systems can make better use of innovation and digital technology and support the development of relevant digital competences needed for life and work in an age of rapid digital change. This after EU Member States stressed their commitment to providing young people with the ‘best education and training’ as stated in the Rome Declaration of March 2017.
The Action Plan also has a specific focus on initial education and training systems and covers schools, vocational education and training (VET) and higher education.
MEUSAC organises consultation session on Action Plan
Last year, MEUSAC held a consultation session in collaboration with the Ministry for Education and Employment on the Commission’s Digital Action Plan.
One of MEUSAC’s roles is to provide information on EU matters by disseminating information, organising consultation and information sessions on new EU policies and legislation and organising debates and conferences.
Mr Emmanuel Zammit from the Ministry for Education and Employment delivered a presentation on the Action Plan. In Malta’s case, the question of whether teachers are being disheartened with the technology challenge and whether they are prepared to look at technology as a tool that brings us opportunities was asked. Mr Zammit emphasised that we need to see our students move from passive consumers to creators of value.
Another consultation session held by MEUSAC last year was about Key Competences for Lifelong Learning. The aim is to equip people with the right skills for today’s and tomorrow’s economy, including investment in STEM subjects and measures to support competence development in these areas.
Equipping youth with sound digital skills
But following the action plan, what matters most is what is being done and what the future holds in terms of equipping youth and other job seekers with sound digital skills. The Commission for instance is promoting various initiatives aimed at increasing training in digital skills for the workforce and for consumers. The new Digital Europe Programme, with a budget of €700 million, seeks to expand the digital talent pool with around 256,000 people who will be able to deploy the latest technology in business throughout Europe, focusing on three types of actions: Master’s programmes, short-term specialised training courses in advanced digital technologies for around 150,000 job seekers and employed people especially in SMEs, and 35,000 job placements in companies or research centres where advanced digital technologies are developed or used.
The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) 2019 published last month found that Malta ranks 10th in Europe overall in the Digital Economy, behind the likes of Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Estonia, but ahead of other strong countries like Spain, Germany, Austria, Italy and Portugal. The report further states that Malta is doing well but there’s room for improvement. It also refers to the fact the eSkills Malta Foundation launched a digital skills strategy last April and along with other exemplary initiatives in education and industry, should push Malta further up the scale and expand our economy.
The local aspect
On a local level, the eSkills Malta Foundation is working to help enhance ICT skills in Malta through the development of a broad set of skills for those pursuing a tech-related career, the aim of which is to ultimately boost employability, competitiveness and growth in the EU’s Digital Economy.
Carmel Cachia, Chief Administrator, of the foundation says that the foundation invests a lot of time and money in its awareness campaigns, having had reasonable success.
“The initiatives that the eSkills Malta Foundation implements touch on the importance of digital skills for the students, teachers, ICT industry, SMEs and also the citizen at large. Having said this, about 46% still do not have the basic digital skills in Malta and also in Europe.
“And this is why the Commission works with organisations like the foundation so that they can support the foundation in its objectives,” Mr Cachia explains.
Worthy of note is that the foundation is seen as one of Europe’s best practices with respect to how a digital skills coalition may be set up and run.
The foundation launched its National eSkills Strategy in March 2019 to cover three years, preparing Malta for the challenges of the digital age.
Malta first Member State to have digital skills strategy
Malta was the first EU Member State to have a specific and coherent national digital skills strategy after the Commission had recommended it in 2016. The strategy aims to complement initiatives at both local and EU level to address the need for existing and new digital skills that shall be required by nearly all jobs in the medium term.
“Malta’s situation resembles that of other European countries, however, we are very much better placed than most, due to our strong digital economy and the right government policies.
“Maltese youth must be upskilled, but we also encourage them to change their attitude in using technology in a participative manner rather than just a consumer. “Having skills to use social media for entertainment does not mean they have the digital skills needed for their education, employment and well-being, even if it motivates them to learn more about the use of technologies,” Mr Cachia emphasises.
Youth employment depends very much on their digital skills and in the near future they could end up without the right job if they do not upskill themselves in the emerging technologies.
“Today we are lucky to have all the opportunities to learn through e-learning and the vast funding that is invested by all governments. Very few jobs in the future would not need digital skills,” Mr Cachia concludes.
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