A digital skills strategy

A digital skills strategy

Article published on Times of Malta on 19th July 2017.

1) What role does the eSkills Malta Foundation play in employability and shaping Malta’s future economy?

We can say that our role has a direct and indirect influence towards employability and shaping Malta’s future economy.

As the main organisation in Malta with direct mandates of expanding and improving digital skills in Malta, we carry out a lot of initiatives in the form of projects, workshops and direct meetings with stakeholders to bridge the digital skills gap that exists between digital education and the digital industry. As in all EU countries we have a gap which seems to be persistently growing. For example, in April the Foundationlaunched an ICT Skills Audit, which we had been working on for about 6 months. For this project, we engaged with industry to gather their current and future digital skills requirements both in type and quantity, which was followed by research on education provision. The outcome was a series of recommendations that Malta should work on. The Foundation also instigates changes in primary, secondary and tertiary education which should improve provision of the labour force. We do this by following both local and international ‘best practices’ and ideas. We have regular communication and engagement on the subject with DG Grow and DG Connect of the European Commission, and I must say the Foundation is one of the most active of the National Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition members.

Indirectly, we have been working with partners for upskilling the digital skills of the labour force in Malta. Digital Transformation is happening all over the world and this very much includes Malta. If we do not equip our current labour force with the necessary digital skills, then Malta’s future economy will slow down drastically. It is thought that between 30 and 40% of the current labour force skills will become redundant in the very near future. This is due to the introduction of Artificial Intelligence, robotics, data analytics, the cloud, IoT, and other pertinent technologies. Businesses all over the world will be effected and the leaders and successful ones will be those who have already started to transform themselves on digital skills.

2) How important are eSkills in strengthening the foundations of a knowledge-based economy?

The concept of knowledge-based economy had a determining effect on the traditional economics, and countries are continuously being directed to understand the dynamics of a knowledge-based economy. Economic growth is nowadays determined by the level of highly-skilled labour that exist in a country. The digitisation of knowledge and its transmission through communications and computer networks has led to the emerging “information society”. The need for workers to acquire a range of digital skills and to continuously adapt these skills underlies the “learning economy”. Employment depends heavily on this. This directs countries, and the EU-28 and in the context of the digital single market, to continuously measure knowledge inputs and outputs, its stocks and flows, its dissemination, and knowledge learning methods. This importance compounds itself considering the digital transformation that is revolutionising world economies.

3) What initiatives is the eSkills Malta Foundation currently leading?

Firstly, it is important to appreciate that our initiatives will not be successful without our stakeholders and other formal and informal organisations who contribute to the same cause. Currently, following the ICT Skills Audit, we are exploding its recommendations to specific tasks that should be carried out by respective stakeholders in Malta.

Having an eSkills National Strategy for the next 10 years is also key for Malta and we intend to work on this as soon as possible. This brings into perspective many facets and stakeholders, and importantly a lot of foresight.

Another important initiative is the implementation of the EU Framework for IT Professionalism, and this contributes to the development of the IT profession in Malta. We will be working on a consultation to see what the industry, academia, and society wants on the subject. We know that due to the fast-changing technology and the pressing problem being faced by the digital industry in general, the IT Profession has been playing the second fiddle. The Foundation hosted an EU conference and workshop on the subject, and this has put Malta in the spotlight.

The Foundation is also running two important Focus Groups, one relating to Women in ICT, and the other referring to the ICT Industry and Education. These are important feeders to policy making and decisions.

Working with the educational sector is an ongoing drive in our initiatives. This includes the exposure of teachers and students to current and future ICT careers, apprenticeships and placements in Tertiary education, trying to set up techcelaror camps for technology. These are only some initiatives, and the list goes on.

4) In a few months, the EU Code Week will be held – what will Malta’s role be in this initiative?

The EU Codeweek is a very important EU event. Malta’s role will be the same as any other country in the EU, which is that of increasing the knowledge on coding to different groups in the Society, and in particular, to beginners. This is also a flexible event where those interested can organise sessions, to young kids, students, or adult beginners. The event is not about selling or branding, but it is about a concentrated effort in this period to uphold ‘coding’ and entice young or older persons into coding, giving them an experience and a taste. The Foundation would handle the promotion, administration and in the end, also give a certificate of participation to participants. In 2016, nearly a million people in more than 50 countries around the world took part in EU Code Week,

5) How is the eSkills Malta Foundation ensuring that standards in IT education are kept and improved?

The Ministry of Education, who are one of our stakeholders, are doing a good job, when one takes all the circumstances. The eSkills Malta Foundation engages with the Ministry on a regular basis, listens to what is being done and the issues effecting their plans. The Foundation proposes ‘best practices’, and brings forward innovative ideas in helping the digital education achieve its aims. The Foundation knows well of the challenges in education, including the renovation of digital education from formative level upwards, including the Further and Tertiary Education which is not exactly the domain of the Ministry. Our Tertiary Level ICT students need to have a solid computer science foundation knowledge and a closer set of digital skills that are required by the Industry. The Foundation is also proposing that the industry based certifications will be valid both as complementary to graduate education, and as a good alternative to formal education.

6) The eSkills Malta Foundation enjoys the status of a national coalition for digital jobs – what does this status entail?

This is a recognition for our hard work. Rather than a status it is a responsibility. Every EU country has a National Coalition for Digital Skills and Jobs, and Malta is no exception. Broadly speaking National Coalitions bring together digital skills actors in EU Member States who work together to improve digital skills at national, regional or local level. In April, this year, the eSkills Malta Foundation had the honour to host in Malta a workshop and progress meeting between National Coalitions coming from most European countries. In practice, National Coalitions identifies organisations who can become members of the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalitions, commit to the Bratislava Declaration, and entices them to submit specific pledges on digital skills, and tries to help them, in no uncertain way to achieve their aims. National Coalitions also engage with government and other stakeholders with the aim of increasing the national digital skills, which after all is the aim of our Foundation.