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Digital SkillUp contributing to Europe’s ambitious SME upskilling targets

Digital SkillUp is gearing up to engage even more SMEs to its training courses and to provide tailored content supporting SME upskilling. As the first step towards this goal, on the 15th of July, Digital SkillUp held a stakeholder webinar titled ‘Closing the SME digital skill gap together’.

Specific attention to SMEs is especially needed now in the post-COVID world, where digitalisation becomes a necessity for business resilience. Hence, the European Commission has also set the ambitious Digital Decade targets, aiming to ensure that 90% of SMEs in Europe would use different digital technologies, while 75% of EU companies would implement more advanced technologies, such as Cloud services, AI, Big Data. Skills for emerging technologies are the key ingredient to achieve these goals, and this is where Digital SkillUp plays a role.

The latest stakeholder webinar, which was dedicated to SMEs, has attracted 47 participants – representatives from innovative companies already providing training to their staff and those on their way towards upskilling, representatives from SME and business support associations, as well as academics working closely with industry. The webinar, whose purpose was to better understand SME needs and further shape the SME-specific content, was the first step among a number of actions that Digital SkillUp will implement in the upcoming months in order to support SMEs.

The webinar was launched by Arthur Tréguier from the European Commission’s Digital Economy, Recovery Plan and Skills Unit at DG CONNECT, who once again confirmed the need for SME-specific content and training: ‘We saw that in SMEs, there is a specific need for digital skills within the SME staff, and we know that they are facing some very specific challenges, meaning that for SME managers it is difficult to train people, as they don’t have resources and time’.

After the opening, Viola Pinzi, Digital SkillUp coordinator and project manager at the European Schoolnet, presented the approach and the main goals of Digital SkillUp.

Justina Bieliauskaite, projects director at the European DIGITAL SME Alliance, guided the webinar participants through the main findings from the initial needs research. One of the striking facts is that >90% SMEs consider themselves lagging behind in digital innovation but only <10% provide training to ICT specialists and <20% offer training to other employees. Justina also spoke about the specific needs which were identified through the expert consultations, such as to have better guidance to navigate learning opportunities available online and advice selecting suitable training, as well as the need for business examples of successful technology adoption and new business cases.

Finally, Antonio Fumero, CIO at Edosoft Factory, an innovative Spanish SME, shared the inspiring story of his company, which has developed its own unique and agile upskilling framework, concentrating on a holistic approach towards each staff member, and their cognitive and non-cognitive skills. ‘This is important to keep on moving, to keep increasing skills, to keep sharing knowledge not only within our company, but also outside our organisation, because we try to contribute with some of these content pieces to the development of other SMEs’ – concluded Antonio, stressing the importance of good practices and sharing the SME approach to skills.

The second half of this webinar was an interactive session to discuss the main challenges SMEs are still facing regarding upskilling and training, as well as potential solutions: pathways (guidance) to upskilling and concrete business cases helping SMEs to understand the benefits of adopting emerging technologies and transforming their businesses.

The main challenges that emerged from the interactive discussions confirmed the earlier research findings, as they mainly revolved around choosing the most suitable courses for the business and for each staff member, encouraging learning while working, acquiring non-cognitive skills beyond the core content, and establishing a learning pathway within the organisation, aligning skills towards the existing certifications and overall competence frameworks.

In order to respond to these challenges, the participants stressed the need to have very simple but agile guidance, basic pathways towards upskilling, which would match the needs of SMEs in different sectors and also of different maturity levels. These pathways should also include transversal skills (e.g., general knowledge about cybersecurity and privacy), as well as simultaneous development of non-cognitive skills. These pathways should also be supported by competence frameworks for non-IT professionals who need to work with a certain type of advanced technology (for example robotics applied to the healthcare sector).

Finally, the other important element mentioned during the session is the need to identify concrete successful business cases of SMEs that managed to adopt emerging technologies, transform their business and to equip their staff with the needed skills to implement the new business processes.

As the next step, the Digital SkillUp team will follow the stakeholder recommendations to develop new content and tools for SMEs.

Follow our News to learn about the new content released and participate in the next webinar for SMEs.

If you have missed this webinar, the recording is available here.