Development of the IT Profession in Europe

Publication Date: Aug 03, 2018
Development of the IT Profession in Europe
Article by Carm Cachia, Chief Administrator, eSkills Malta Foundation published on the Malta Business Observer on 26th July 2018

The ICT Sector is seen as a trendy buoyant sector which is always changing with the rapid technological developments, and without which most of the other sectors in the economy cannot operate effectively and efficiently.  The sector is well known for its highly paid jobs, and this is because there are much more vacancies than the available resources.  This status is the same all over the world, and the forecast for the long years to come is that the situation will remain the same. By 2020 it is estimated that Europe will create 750,000 new ICT jobs, although this figure could be adjusted downwards, due to the global extra efforts currently being done in the “producing” more ICT specialists through different routes other than formal education, thanks to EU initiatives like the “e-Skills for Jobs” and its follow-up the “Digital Skills for Jobs” campaign. The gap between the IT Skills demanded and those supplied hovers between 3.2% and 3.5% of employment.

But in the midst of all this one may be sceptical about the level of professionalism being adopted by ICT professionals, after all, one may think that the sector is developing so fast that it does not give enough time to think about IT Professionalism.  But this is an incorrect short-sighted view.  In fact, at national level, many European countries have an academic and professional education system working to develop professional ICT specialists, through colleges, Universities, and many professional bodies.  Additionally, in 2006 country members of CEN, the European standards body, agreed with the national ICT framework stakeholders and the European ICT industry to develop a European e-Competence Framework (e-CF). This framework is a common reference for ICT knowledge, competencies and attitudes that an ICT professional should have, whether they work in both the public and private sectors. Eventually, in April 2016 e-CF Version 3 became a European standard. In accordance with CEN rules, a technical committee, namely the CEN Technical Committee “Digital competences and ICT Professionalism” (CEN/TC 428), was set up to develop and maintain the e-CF standard. Malta is represented in this technical committee by the eSkills Malta Foundation, on behalf of the Malta standards authority, MCCAA. A national mirror committee was also set up to participate, review, and give local feedback on this standard. The members of this committee come from the education, public, and private sectors. Currently, TC428 is working on Version 4 of the e-CF.

More importantly, in January 2017 the Framework for IT professionalism was launched in which, apart from the e-CF, were identified other very important pillars for an IT professional.  These include the foundational body of knowledge, education and training qualifications and certifications (be they academic and industry), and finally ethics and code of conduct. This Framework was officially launched in Malta in a pan-European conference by the eSkills Malta Foundation in June 2018, during Malta’s EU Presidency.

The pan-European IT Body of Knowledge references the foundational knowledge required from IT professionals.  It is a ‘go-to’ reference for IT in Europe which provides the fundamental basis to set standards, qualifications and certifications. It should inspire educational providers for IT curriculum design and development, a basis for IT certifications, for IT professional associations to promote, and for HR to use in supporting their talent acquisition and development.

Continuous professional development is essential for IT professionals in a knowledge-based economy, and life-long learning is the main ingredient for the development of an IT professional’s career. Formal, non-formal, informal learning, together with industry certifications can give a picture of an individual’s It competences and skills and are main components for the maturing of the IT profession.  There are various initiatives to recognise and validate an IT professional’s career which is based on formal education, industry certifications, non-formal and informal learning, including experience.  In Malta, the National Commission for Further and Higher Education (NCFHE) already have validations for the formal education and is working towards the others.

Ethical behaviour is an element sometimes taken for granted in the IT sector, and professionalism dictates that this is as important as all the other pillars mentioned earlier.  Agreement amongst the relative ICT stakeholders was reached for the first version of the European Ethical Guidelines for IT professionals.  The application of IT has a potential risk of harming the industry, commerce and society.  Therefore, these guidelines should fill the gap between those ethics taught at Universities and those in the workplace.

The European Framework for IT professionalism is more than the sum of its parts and presents a flexible approach for all those involved in ICT. The framework components, namely the e-CF, foundational IT body of knowledge, education & certification, and ethical guidelines can also be adapted through the rapid change and advancement in technology.  The eSkills Malta Foundation is working towards the national and local development of these four important pillars of the IT profession.