The following was penned by Carmel Cachia, the Chief Administrator of the eSkills Malta Foundation, an initiative launched by the Government in 2014 to have a specific entity that focuses on digital skills.

There is no doubt that skills have always been the most important component for a society’s economy and culture to thrive.

Businesses need people with the proper skills to compete, and it is crucial for Europe, as a continent, to retain its competitiveness through its human resources potential, when compared to other geopolitical regions.

But to achieve this aim, Europeans must receive the right education and training to be able to progress in their jobs and be valuable contributors to their societies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the truth about the state of skills and their acquisition. The pandemic has accentuated the fact that Europe lags behind when it comes to digital skills.

COVID-19 crucially needed digital skills for teleworking and distance learning. Indeed, virtual methods and needs have now become the new reality for millions of people across the EU.

The European Skills Agenda is a major European instrument, set up by the EU, following feedback from member states.

The plan is reviewed every five years, with the current version applicable until 2025. As planned in the Agenda, the European Commission launched the Pact for Skills on 10th November this year.

It is a new engagement model for skills which will help meet COVID-19 challenges and deliver on the ambitions of the recovery pathway, and this is linked with various other initiatives, including the EU SME Industrial, the EU Digital Strategy and the Digital Education Action Plan.

Skills are key to the future. There is a growing need to learn in order to progress in progress in terms of employment, career, and place in society.

Only through collaboration, can we bring about the scale of change required to foster an economic recovery that is socially inclusive. Under the Pact, industry, public and private employers, social partners, education and training providers as well as employment agencies will work together on a shared vision and on definitive actions.

The Pact aims to mobilise and incentivise all relevant stakeholders to take concrete actions for the upskilling and reskilling of people of working age using relevant pooling efforts through sustainable partnerships. The European Skills Agenda calls for collective action by mobilising business, social partners and stakeholders, to commit to working together.

The Agenda defines a clear strategy to ensure that people continue building their skills throughout their careers, using lifelong learning systems.

It also identifies the significant financial funds required to invest in skills, while also setting ambitious objectives for the upsklling and reskilling of staff over the next five years.

European Commission

To achieve these goals, the European Commission has identified 12 important actions:

1. Mobilising countries and their industries to agree to the Pact, launched on 10th November, in order to mobilise partnerships and invest in creating opportunities for people through proper training and education. Under the Pact, the Commission will offer a single entry point of reference, at the European level, where everyone can access information on EU funding and programmes for skills development for those of working age;

2. Improve on providing the right skills intelligence from all sectors in a timely manner, making use of data analysis technology, which should be made widely available;

3. EU support to member states for the development of modern national skills strategies, including the strengthening of collaborations with national employment agencies;

4. Energising and modernising vocational education and training to make them more attractive, flexible, and appropriate for the digital age, as well as for the continent’s green transition;

5. Rolling out the European Universities initiative and upskilling scientists to build transnational collaborations between higher education institutions throughout Europe, including the developing of a core set of skills for researchers;

6. Boosting digital skills through a digital education action plan and ICT to increase training courses and develop a set of core green skills;

7. Increasing the number of STEM graduates, fostering entrepreneurial and transversal skills;

8. Implementing further lifelong learning for youth and adults on important societal issues such as media literacy, civic competences, financial, environmental and health literacy;

9. Exploring an initiative on individual lifelong learning accounts, so that people are stimulated to keep abreast with the skills needed during all phases of life;

10. Implementing European standards for accredited short training courses to help in the recognition of the results of such training;

11. Revamping the Europass platform to offer online tools and guidance on CV-writing, focused information for jobs and learning opportunities, which should be available in all 29 languages;

12. Boosting the EU budget to increase digital skills as a right to every citizen at any stage of life, thus improving transparency, and exploring modern methods of financing such initiatives.

EU flags

It is also pertinent to mention two important European initiatives that link up with the European Skills Agenda.

a) The Digital Education Plan 2021-2027 (DEAP). This resets education and training for the digital age, and two strategic priorities have come out of this plan:

• Fostering the development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem. This will be done through the improvement of infrastructure, connectivity and digital equipment, as well as effective digital planning; the fostering of organisational capacities; increasing the digital competence of educators and their supporting staff; developing high-quality learning content with user-friendly tools; and securing platforms to safeguard privacy and ethics;

• The enhancement of digital skills and competencies needed for digital transformation. This needs the right digital skills, competencies and literacy from a very early age. It includes skills to identify disinformation, computing education, and a good understanding of emerging technologies. It also requires the acquisition of advanced digital skills to create more digital specialists by providing a gender-neutral platform so that girls and women are equally represented in these careers.

b) The European Digital Strategy identifies four areas of important implementation and involves an inclusive and sustainable society with a strong competing digital economy, positioning Europe as a global player. Specifically:

• Technology must work for people and must make a difference in their daily lives. European values must be fostered and balanced with a skilled society to boost the digital economy;

• The digital economy must be fair and competitive, working within a single digital market to reap all the benefits. Companies of all sizes will have an opportunity to develop, and compete on equal terms by using the digital technologies products and services to boost their global competitiveness;

• An open, democratic and sustainable digital society where citizens are empowered in how they act and interact, and have control over the data they provide both online and offline. This is a fundamental right for citizens, and contributes to a sustainable, green economy;

•Europe must be competitive and advanced enough to be a global digital player and compete with the other continents. Europe already lags behind the US and Asia in some technologies, however it is ahead in others. It remains committed to become the most open region for trade and investment.

The European Skills Agenda is definitely one of the most important instruments for digital skills acquisition. It has been beneficial to European workers and employers, and encourages the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also fostered economic growth and the well-being of society through the enhancement of skills.

This feature was first carried in the November edition of The Malta Business Observer

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