Croatia ranks 9th in Human Capital out of 27 EU Member States in the 2022 edition of the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), with a score of 51.8. Between 2017 and 2022, Croatia’s DESI score grew slightly more than that of the EU.
According to the DESI report, 63% of people in Croatia have at least basic digital skills. 3.6% of employees are ICT specialists but despite an increase in the supply of ICT specialists, 68% of Croatian companies recruiting or trying to recruit ICT professionals still report problems in finding suitable candidates. Nevertheless, the percentage of graduates studying ICT in Croatia (4.7%) remains higher than the EU average (3.9%). The country also performs relatively well as regards the share of women in its ICT specialists’ workforce (21%).
Microsoft’s Digital Futures Index measure the digitalization level of 16 European countries, including Croatia. The Index brings data about the current level of digitalization of the country and detects the most successful areas, but also the areas where there is more work to be done to accelerate the digital transformation process. Digitalization is perceived through 5 categories of digital development: Digital Business, Digital Government and Public Sector, Digital Infrastructure, Digital Sector, and Human Capital. The overall level of Croatia’s digital development is 91, which is 9% below the CEE average. Compared to the Central and Eastern European countries, Croatia is ranked above average only in terms of human capital, significantly above the average with the digital skills of the general population. In the digital sector, infrastructure, and business and government categories, Croatia is close to but still below average.
Croatia has a National coalition for digital skills and jobs – Nacionalna koalicija za digitalne vještine i radna mjesta u Republici Hrvatskoj – that was established in December 2018 by the Croatian Employers’ Association (CEA) with 20 partners from academia and education, industry, the public and not-for-profit sector, with main priorities: increasing the number of digital professionals trained and employed and qualified digital professionals in Croatia.
The Croatian National Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition is also involved in Regional Centres of Excellence in vocational education projects, supporting quality assurance, job market information, employers’ involvement in counselling schools, and curriculum enhancement. Croatian National Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition was mentioned in Croatia’s 2021 and 2022 DESI reports.
Overview of state strategies and national initiatives
Croatia’s National Development Strategy is the national strategic action plan for the period 2018 to 2030, which aims to support the twin digital and green transition of the Croatian society and economy. The National Strategy outlines 4 strategic priority clusters: Sustainable economy and society, Strengthening resilience to crises, Green and digital transition, and Balanced regional development. The Chapter on the Green and digital transition of the Strategy offers further insight into the specific actions, planned with regards to supporting the development of digital skills and jobs for all citizens, the labour force, education sector – including more advanced skills for digital experts.
In December 2022, Digital Croatia Strategy for the period until 2032 was published with a vision of Croatia improved by digital transformation. Digital Croatia Strategy has established 4 strategic objectives in 4 priority areas: Developed and innovative digital economy (e.g. Supporting digital innovation hubs); Digitalised public administration (e.g. Promoting digital services and customer support among citizens); VHCN deployed, available, and taken up (e.g. Encouraging the take-up of very high- speed services) and Developed digital competences for working and living in a digital age with priorities Increasing the number of ICT specialists on the labour market, Developing citizens’ digital competences for working and living in a digital age, with help of ICT, Digital transition supporting the development of the education and research system. For the strategic objective Developed digital competences for working and living in a digital age targeting scores are: to be among the top 5 countries on the DESI Human capital rank, raise the percentage of ICT specialists in employment to be higher than 8%, and raise individuals’ digital skills to be among top 5 EU countries.
Artificial Intelligence Development Strategy of the Republic of Croatia is still under preparation, but Digital Croatia Strategy mentions that The National Plan for the Development of Artificial Intelligence will define the plans for increasing the uptake of AI technologies in order to transform the Croatian economy, exceeding the mere implementation of technology, in order to thoroughly examine business models and introduce radical measures for increasing productivity and creating new growth areas. The goal of the Plan is to: enhance research and develop innovations in order to introduce AI to the Croatian economy; develop competences and human resources; improve data access, digital infrastructure, and security; develop an ethical and legal framework for using AI.
The Croatian Recovery and Resilience Plan contribute to the digital transformation of Croatia’s society and economy with 20.4% of the plan’s total allocation. Measures include: increasing the efficiency and transparency of public sector bodies; establishing management and coordination structures to plan and implement of the digital transformation of society and the public administration and providing public administration tools and technologies needed to develop more efficient and high-quality digital services tailored to users’ needs.
Increasing the national broadband coverage investment aims at increasing the availability of electronic communications networks in areas where there is no commercial interest by providing gigabit connectivity to households and companies, in line with the objectives of the European Gigabit Society. Broadband investments (EUR 133 million) will be deployed in fixed networks (VHCN) in the country, in rural and urban areas. These investments should grant support to 20 projects for developing broadband access infrastructure by September 2023 and cover at least 100,000 additional households in white NGA areas with broadband access of at least 100 Mbit/s for downloading (upgradable to 1 Giga) by June 2026.
The introduction of vouchers for developing green and digital skills investment aims to increase the employability of workers and better match labour market supply and demand by supporting lifelong learning and the acquisition of new skills, particularly green and digital skills. It finances participation exclusively in educational programmes developed on the basis of the Croatian Qualifications Framework (CROQF) and is implemented through accredited institutions in accordance with the new Adult Education Act. Vouchers are used by both employed and unemployed people, although a particular focus is placed on vulnerable groups (long-term unemployed, inactive or young people not in employment or education). 70% of the total EUR 40 million funding is allocated for programmes related to green skills, while 30% is allocated for programmes related to digital skills. Since the start of the scheme in April 2022, over 9000 applications have been approved and more than 4,200 beneficiaries are already in training. The goal is to award 30,000 vouchers to beneficiaries, of which at least 12,000 should be long-term unemployed, inactive, or young people not in employment or education, by end-June 2026.
‘Grow Croatia with Google‘ Programme has achieved significant results since its launch of the programme back in 2017. From 2017 to 2020, the Grow Croatia with Google programme has already helped 37.000 people all over Croatia get the digital skills they need to be confident actors in the world of work. Between 2020 and 2021, the programme helped another 10.000 SMEs with digital tools, guidance, and training, accelerate the digital transformation of their business and adopt new knowledge and tools to facilitate their work and help them return even stronger after the crisis.
The e-School programme – supported by The Croatian Academic and Research Network (CARNET) – further aims to digitally transform the teaching and educational processes in all schools in Croatia by the end of September 2023. The e-School project will enhance the strategic leadership of schools to increase their digital maturity and strengthen the digital competencies of teachers. The projects will provide a reliable and secure ICT environment suited to the needs of schools and will ensure that all schools are connected to high-speed internet. Croatia has also developed a Strategic framework for digital maturity of the schools and school education in the Republic of Croatia (2030). This strategic framework was first published in 2020 and is currently funding its activities with resources from the European Social Fund (ESF) and the national budget.
School of the Future (Škola budućnosti) is an initiative linking schools to the technology sector. Set to run until 2025, the projects bring hands-on tech project work to the selected schools. Also, there are annual tech conferences and an online mentoring programme. The 2021/2022 challenge focussed on developing AI chatbots and in 2022/23 targeted areas are artificial intelligence, robotics and greentech. So far, more than 4,000 students in more than 200 schools have been reached by the project.
Funding opportunities for upskilling and reskilling to support the digital competences of individuals and organizations are available in form of loans, grants and financial instruments. For the period 2021 – 2026 most of the activities in digital transformation are financed through Recovery and Resilience facility but also as activities in Horizon, Erasmus+, ESIF and EEA grant schemes. You may find more on the page of Croatian National Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition and in the article on the Digital Skills and Jobs Platform.