Developing the IT profession in Europe is imperative, says eSkills Malta Foundation’s Carmel Cachia

Publication Date: Dec 18, 2020
 
Carm Cachia

The following was penned by Carmel Cachia, the Chief Administrator of the eSkills Malta Foundation, an initiative launched by the Government in 2014 to have a specific entity that focuses on digital skills.

The ICT sector is seen as a trendy, buoyant sector which is always changing in line with 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 due to the fact that there are many more vacancies than the available human resources. Indeed, the gap between the number of ICT professionals and practitioners required and those supplied is between 3.2 per cent and 3.5 per cent, and this has been the case for quite some time now.

This situation is the same all over the world, and the forecast for the long years to come is that it will continue to remain the same. By 2030, around1.7millionICTprofessionals will be required by the European ICT industry, although this figure could be adjusted downwards, due to the global efforts currently being made in developing more ICT specialists through different routes other than formal education.

This is also due to European Commission initiatives such as the Digital Skills for Jobs campaign. But in the midst of all this, one may be sceptical about the level of professionalism being adopted by those working in the ICT sector. After all, one may think that the sector is developing so fast that it does not give enough time for the idea of IT professionalism to be discussed and elaborated upon.

However, this is an incorrect, short-sighted view. At a 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. In 2006, the country members of CEN – the European Committee for Standardization – in collaboration with each European member state, agreed to develop a European e-Competence Framework (e-CF).

This framework is a common reference of ICT knowledge, competencies and attitudes that are required by the European ICT industry. Eventually, in April 2016, e-CF became a European standard.

In accordance with CEN rules, a technical committee was set up for the further development of Digital competences and ICT Professionalism.

This Technical Committee, entitled CENTC428, develops and maintains the e-CF standards. As a result, various versions have been issued over the years. The latest version of the e-CF was launched towards the end of 2020. In this last iteration, several additional ICT roles and the emergent transversal skills were introduced.

The eSkills Malta Foundation was appointed by the Malta Standards Authority, MCCAA, to represent Malta on this committee. Following this, the foundation set up a local mirror committee to participate, review, and give regular national feedback on the further development of this standard. The members of this committee come from the education, as well as the public and private sectors. More importantly, in January 2017, following a study, the Framework for IT Professionalism was launched by the European Commission.

The EU framework for the IT profession is intended as a comprehensive durable guide that is updated regularly to adapt to new technology, jobs, competences, skills, and attitudes in the ICT industry. Technology outfits use it to measure the staff capabilities and as an appraisal and succession planning tool.

In recruitment the e-CF is used by HR, for example, to harmonise job descriptions to ensure applicants clearly understand the competences associated with the job roles. Training companies use it to develop specialised courses.

The framework involves a set of complementary pillars – namely, Body of Knowledge, Competences, Education and Ethics – together creating a synergy in sync with the continuously evolving information technology.

This framework was officially launched in Malta during a pan-European conference organised by the eSkills Malta Foundation in June 2018, during Malta’s EU Presidency. The components of the European Framework of IT Professionalism include the following elements.

-The pan-European IT Body of Knowledge references the foundational knowledge required from IT professionals. It is a ‘goto’ reference for IT in Europe which provides the fundamental basis on which to set standards, qualifications and certifications. It should inspire educational providers for IT curriculum design and development, a basis for IT certifications, as well as for IT professional associations to promote the sector, 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, and informal learning, together with industry certifications can give a picture of an individual’s IT competences and skills, and are the main components for the maturing of the IT profession.

-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 the 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 can also be adapted to cater for the rapid change and advancement in technology.

Emerging technology has changed a number of the above components, and this compels us to keep any frameworks and standards updated. In this respect, the e-CF has been updated.

As we speak, CEN TC428 has started several projects centred on the set of standards known as the European IT Professional Ethics and the European Foundational Body of Knowledge (BoK) for ICT Professionals. Other projects were approved by the CEN TC428 members and are currently in progress.

These include the ICT Curriculum Guidelines for eCompetence and Digital Leadership, and the Assessment of ICT Competence. Malta stands to benefit from all this work, and the eSkills Malta Foundation is working towards the national and local implementation of these four important pillars of the IT profession; Body of Knowledge, Competences, Education and Ethics.

However, this mostly depends on the industry giving enough importance to IT professionalism.

In the short-term, qualifications and experience acquired by an ICT professional and practitioner could be seen to be enough for the ever-growing expansion of the digital economy. But, in the long-term, unless the IT professionalism is given its due recognition, like all other regulated professions, the ICT sector will never be balanced with the required social and professional accountability.

More information on the European e-Competence Framework (e-CF) can be found at www.ecompetences.eu​

This feature was first carried in the December edition of The Malta Business Observer