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Path to the Digital Decade: Upskilling in Emerging Technologies - event highlights

It is time for the Digital SkillUp consortium to wrap up what has been done in the past two years of the project´s implementation and present the way forward to keep its mission running and alive beyond its end.   

The final event was an occasion to gather the already established Digital SkillUp community and new stakeholders around a dynamic discussion on upskilling and reskilling for emerging technologies as they bring disruptive changes in our life and way of work.

11 guest speakers representing different upskilling angles enriched the discussion with their forward-looking speeches and diverse expertise. The ceremony, livestreamed on the Digital Skills EU Facebook channel, was opened by the moderator of the event, Justina Bieliauskaite, Project Director at DIGITAL SME, who welcomed the participants and passed the floor Alexander Riedl, Deputy Head of Unit at the Digital Economy, Recovery Plan and Skills Unit, DG CNECT,of the European Commission, for the opening remarks.  

Alexander presented the overall policy objectives that Digital SkillUp is helping to achieve, such as delivering basic digital skills to at least 80% of the European population by 2030, as per the Digital Decade targets. The three training courses developed within the project have indeed contributed to bringing the EU closer to this overarching goal, and will remain a valuable training resource within the European Digital Skills & Jobs Platform.  

It was then the time for the keynote speakers, who presented their visionary approach to upskilling SMEs and citizens in emerging technologies. Andrei Kelemen, CEO at ClujIT Cluster presented what his cluster is doing in their community of reference, highlighting their flagship initiative: the Digital Innovation up for Society - DIH4S - whose mission is to ensure wide use of digital technologies across the economy and society, and support SMEs in the local community to innovate and growth, as well as to create social value.  

Cheryl Miller, Founding Director of the Digital Leadership Institute, joined us from the other side of the Atlantic to share her vision on the importance of universal digital literacy and the key point of reaching that audience who is still overlooked, such as women and vulnerable people, to make the digital transition inclusive and sustainable. She highlighted that in Europe, there is a persistent lag of 12 million women who are falling behind in terms of digital skills, and despite millions of unfilled tech jobs and a pandemic-driven ‘she-session’, women are still not engaged in designing, building and leading the digital society to a needed extent. 

How the Digital SkillUp project is concretely contributing to realize such ambitious visions was explained later by Viola Pinzi, Project Manager at European Schoolnet and Coordinator of the project. She provided an overview on what Digital SkillUp had achieved in terms of research and creating innovative outputs, and encouraged organisations to join the initiative as Associated Members, committing to building on the Digital SkillUp mission of making digital skills and the knowledge on emerging technologies accessible to all beyond the project’s end.  

The discussion became more dynamic with the Panel that followed, where experts discussed the trends in emerging technologies’ uptake, the challenges in reaching the Digital Decade targets and the actions to be implemented in the near future.

Marco Bianchini, Economist and Policy analyst at OECD, represented the SMEs angles as he chairs the Digital for SMEs Global initiative of OECD (D4SME) and outlined the complexity of the digitalisation process for some businesses, sometimes pushing them to give up. Supporting SMEs in their digitalisation journey is crucial for Europe’s future competitiveness, but a change in the business culture is also necessary to promote the use of digital technologies, for instance by linking them to green sustainability and creating added value for both the organisations and the customers, as it was the case for New Zealand.  

Marco also stressed the need of training both employees and entrepreneurs / executives to be able to leverage digital technologies for the growth of the organisation and the overall European SMEs ecosystem.  

Peter Palvolgyi, Chief Executive Officer at ALL DIGITAL, joined the discussion affirming that the lack of digital skills in Europe is a problem that needs to be tackled from different angles, from stakeholders' cooperation, to significant investment in digital. He also highlighted that citizens and SMEs alike need inclusive, accessible and high-quality digital education, which requires a change in mentality and more adaptation to the new job market. Collaboration and resources are the key words of his intervention, as he strongly believes there is a need to bring the digital framework closer to citizens. 

Ricardo Rodriguez Contreras – Research Manager at Eurofound, presented some of the key results from the study his organisation had conducted on digitalization in the workspace, underlining the different aspects to consider when deciding to adopt a technology and how its implementation can differ from sector to sector. He also stressed the need of having proper trainings but recognised that the resources available to SMEs are often not enough, which makes the new generation of funds, like the Digital Europe Programme, a great opportunity for investment in training.  

Carmel Cachia, Chief Administrator at eSkills Malta Foundation, intervened to give the perspective of the National Government organisations. He stressed the importance to setting up a process that will continue the digital transformation and upskilling that have started during the pandemic and set specific goals to monitor the results and eventually adjust the efforts. When talking about the need of collaboration and the lack of resources for both technology adoption and upskilling the personnel, he stressed the crucial role of National Coalitions. As an intermediary between the central government and the local community, the Coalitions have possibility to gather intelligence on digital upskilling needs and influence the education programmes as well as share knowledge on existing funding opportunities to businesses and citizens. 

All speakers agreed that the way to move forward towards upskilling in emerging technologies relies on creating strong public-private partnerships and collaboration among all the stakeholders involved.  

The audience was then asked to join the breakout sessions, where the discussion continued in a more interactive way. Room 1 saw a discussion on emerging technologies for SMEs andthe challenge of upskilling employees and managers, led by DIGITAL SME and  two guest speakers: Lucilla Crosta, CEO and founder of the Edulai platform, and George Giannakopoulos, Co-founder of the SciFY initiative in Greece.  

The two interventions focused on the fact that each role in a business requires a different level of advanced digital skills. They also emphasised the importance of having assessment tool to clearly identify gaps in employee’s skills and ways to tackle them. Attention was also given to the digital well-being of the workers, a new challenge that will intensify in the future, and to the importance of AI, particularly as tool to understand other technologies and skills requirements within an organisation.  

Room 2 was dedicated to Emerging technologies’ training and creating learning pathways that reflect market needs, moderated by REAKTOR.  

Alis Vasile, Project Manager at the National Institute for Cultural Research and Training of Romania, who herself completed the Digital SkillUp courses and Dr. Ernestina Menasalvas, University of Madrid and Lead of the Skills and Education Task Force at Big Data Value Association (BDVA) helped to keep the audience engaged by sharing their learning experience and gathering feedback. The main takeaway from the session is that academia and universities must work together with SMEs and the private sector to address real upskilling needs. Also highlighted was the importance of having short and modular courses to grant flexibility to the learner, as well as using simple and effective language and promoting non-formal education courses, to make sure everyone has access to learning opportunities.  

 In Room 3, the citizens perspective was discussed around the topic of empowering a digitally responsible society. Moderated by Public Libraries 2030 and with the contribution of the guest speaker Dr. Alenka Kavčič-Čolić, Head of the Library Research Department of the National and University Library of Slovenia and FINLIT project manager in Slovenia, the audience stressed the need of making digital technologies accessible for all and raised the point on a key aspect for citizens when it comes to digital: security and privacy. 

The audience reconvened in the plenary to report the main takeaways and to listen to Arthur Treguier, Policy Assistant at Digital Economy, Recovery Plan and Skills, DG CNECT, of the European Commission for the closing remarks. Arthur reminded the audience that €580 million for advanced digital skills are available in the Digital Europe Programme, and invited the participants to make use of the Digital Skills & Jobs Platform, as the place to bring the Digital SkillUp mission forward and continue the discussion in the thread How can we enhance our knowledge of emerging technologies?.  

VIEW THE SPEAKERS' SLIDES