Welcome to the conference and background setting

On 12 October, ITPE along with eSkills Malta Foundation and the Irish Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition held the ‘IT Professionalism Online Conference’. The event included three keynote presentations followed by two separate panel discussions, with speakers representing the European Commission as well as other public and private sector stakeholders.

Starting the event, co-hosts Austeja Trinkunaite (ITPE), Mary Cleary (Irish National Coalition) and Carm Cachia (eSkills Malta Foundation) welcomed speakers and participants to the conference.

Developing IT Professionalism in Europe, André Richier (DG GROW, European Commission)

André Richier stressed that Europe must ensure that it has the right pool of talent and mentioned that there is a large inequality between EU countries in their skills levels. In EU, most IT specialists are in ‘IT-using sectors’, including media and finance, but not in IT itself. He stressed that Europe could do more to grow skills and enhance the workforce in its IT sector.

André highlighted the ‘Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation’ initiative which brings different stakeholders together in sector-specific partnerships, called alliances for sectoral cooperation for skills. The alliances develop and implement strategies to address skills gaps in the relevant sectors. On 10 November, The European Commission will launch its ‘Pact for Skills’ that will address the current demand to support large scale partnerships on the skills. More information about possible involvement in this initiative will become available after its launch.

For more information, please refer to slides and video recording.

Tackling skills needs in Software through the Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation for skills, Luis Busquets (DG CONNECT, European Commission)

Luis Busquets noted that software demand is changing rapidly, and there is a continuous need for updated software to run new technological devices. The European Commission is heavily invested in the Digital economy with its potential to improve life of EU citizens, and the key aim is maximising benefits of digitalisation and making sure all businesses benefit from the added value it creates.  

Luis Busquets stressed that Europe needs to enable the new generations to build leading technology and make the region a ‘creator’ of leading digital solutions. He emphasised the importance of open source collaboration which is becoming more critical now. The demand also affects education, which must include a focus on software, considering the different professional roles and areas related to software.

In answer to the question about which consortium won the Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation call on Software, Luis Busquets could tell that it was a consortium led by Digital Europe and provided a link for more information.

For more information, please refer to slides and video recording. 

National Coalitions on digital skills, Jakub Kajtman (DG CONNECT, European Commission)

Jakub Kajtman noted that the Commission’s Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition had proved to be very useful in the times of the Covid-19 lockdown. He mentioned that partnerships and collaboration between private and public organisations had proved to be a good catalyst for successful outreach and reducing the digital skills gap in Europe. He added that Europe needs more ICT specialists as well as more users with a higher level of basic digital skills.

Jakub noted that the Commission’s ‘Digital Europe’ strategy with the next EU budget, the Recovery and Resilience Facility and the Digital Skills and Jobs Platform are all key enablers for future opportunities in digital transformation.

To address the question about pledges aiming to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, Jakub Kajtman provided a link for more information.

For more information, please refer to slides and video recording. 

Panel 1 – Spearheading the Covid-19 recovery through digital skills: challenges and solutions. Moderator – Mary Cleary, Irish National Coalition

Izabela Milewska said that Digital Europe and AWS have seen increased demand for IT talent, and that if you look at the growth in cloud job vacancies in Europe from March to May 2020, the number rose with 10.000+ open positions. This rapid change in demand only increases the digital skills gap.

Sebastiano Toffaletti noted that there is a need to create different approaches for SME’s to attract the right talent. He emphasised that SME’s are highly innovative employers, which can even be at the forefront of digital technologies. However, smaller, and medium-sized companies would benefit from more allocated resources from European funding to attract and retain digital talent.  

Sebastiano added that digital SME’s currently receive around 15 percent of allocated funding, but he suggested that they should receive amounts closer to 50 percent since SME’s make up 90 percent of the digital economy. He added that there is an opportunity in attracting more women to the digital fields and closing the gender gap.

Gillian Arnold agreed that there currently are not enough women in tech. She mentioned that only 1/6 of the tech workforce is female, and that this is a waste of opportunity. In addition, women are more often taking the responsibility of childcare during lock downs, which could be improved by introducing more flexibility around work-life balance. Gillian suggested that female employees should be evaluated based on objectives, as opposed to working hours.

Gillian invited participants to an event on diversifying the IT workforce 26 November. The European Commissioner for Digital Education and Innovation, Mariya Gabriel, will be speaking at the event. Registrations are available online.

Carm Cachia stated that the Maltese National Coalition is based on collaboration among different stakeholders. He stressed that it is important to engage with stakeholders to help drive the necessary change – not only in the core ICT sector, but also the broader digital sector. An example is their collaboration with AWS to fund and offer basic cloud courses to garner more interest from citizens. The Maltese National Coalition also works with partners in education which have faced challenges in managing the crisis lockdown.

Alexa Joyce agreed that there are challenges in education and that it is hard for decision makers to be agile and deal with new technologies. She mentioned that according to OECD research concerning educational systems, it was shown that systems that had digital transformation strategies in place were better off through the crisis of the pandemic. Close partnerships with tech industry, and more centralised approaches were some of the factors that contributed positively. She added that Digital pedagogy also needs to be improved and made more inclusive.

Asked about the best approach for upskilling the IT workforce, Sebastiano referred to the idea of replacing slow-paced university education with new, market-oriented trainings. In his opinion, this only applies as a short/midterm solution, and that it is important to not give away the solid educational system to actors in the private sector. A public-private partnership is important, but universities must not lose control of its curricula.  

Izabela agreed that partnership is the key aspect to focus on, as well as taking into consideration the speed with which industry needs the talent from universities. Modern curricula need to be more orientated to what the market needs from graduates. Izabela suggested that the digital skills component is required in every faculty to meet the demand of the modern age. Gillian added that IT recruitment should not only be focused on graduates, but also consider ‘over-50’s’ who can be reskilled, and upskilled, to fill the needed positions.

Sebastiano stated that if Europe wants to stay on top during the digital transition, and maintain its wealth, it will be important to invest in people and their skills. He also shared a link to video lessons to SMEs in using the e-CF. Alexa noted that industry should ensure that it is welcoming and doing enough to attract talent. Microsoft is working on creating empathy and a better work environment.

For more information, please refer to video recording. 

Panel 2 – e-Competence Framework in Practice: Companies and Higher Education. Moderator – Mary Cleary, Irish National Coalition

Austeja Trinkunaite presented the new ‘e-CF Explorer’ – a tool developed by IT Professionalism Europe (ITPE) to explore the different dimensions of the e-Competence Framework (e-CF) and the ICT Role Profiles. The tool is available free of charge on the ITPE website.  

The e-CF Explorer provides an overview of how the e-CF can be used in an organisation. The tool allows creating an individual competence profile, which can be downloaded to a personal device.

Next, Ronald Scherpenisse explained how he created a new professional role – the Digital Transformer – for a client based on the e-CF’s ICT Role Profiles. Pascal Ravesteijn helped design a master course based on the e-CF at his university. Carlo Silva has led a large-scale implementation in Poste Italiane of mapping IT personnel’s competences to the e-CF. The methodology of the e-CF role and competence definitions was also used to map the whole organisation. Carlo emphasised that he felt the e-CF had been easy to conceive of by his company management and he said that stakeholders immediately understood the framework.

Mary asked Pascal if it had been a ‘big leap of faith’ to begin developing a curriculum based on the e-CF. He said that since his faculty dealt with applied sciences, and several organisations were often involved in their work, it was natural to use a framework outlining professional roles meant for the private sector. However, they missed the soft skills aspect in the e-CF, which is why they also integrated other tools.

Mary asked Carlo about the role of formal education in a private company such as Poste Italiane. He said that formal education is a fundamental part of professional life, adding that if standards are shared between companies and academia, this offers a transparent and mutually beneficial process when recruiting graduates. This gives information to graduates on what employers expect from them.

Mary then asked Ronald what advice would he would give to others who need to create an original professional role based on the e-CF. Ronald said that he wanted to develop a role that showed active change, linked to the activities of enterprise architecture in the e-CF. His main task was to shift to an innovation aspect by taking innovation manager capabilities into the role. It is useful to consider all 41 competences to not exclude a dimension that would otherwise fit perfectly with the role being developed. He also suggested revisiting the role within a timeframe of seven years since tech demands change rapidly.  

Pascal added that HU University of Applied Sciences also used the framework developed by the Edison Project specific to the data scientist society when developing their curriculum. Most users must modify the e-CF for their specific purposes.

Mary asked Carlo what advice he would give other organisation interested to use the e-CF, or other standards, to introduce structural change in a company. Carlo emphasised that companies need to ensure the right engagement, starting with top management. All involved parties should agree on the importance of the standard chosen, and base the decision on a detailed study of potential benefits. Employees to be assessed according to the new standard are also more open to the process if they understand its purpose. The organisation’s leadership must share objectives and the aim of introducing the new skills standard before beginning its implementation. Carlo noted that a case study of their experiences with the e-CF is planned to be released, and he will share this once it is ready.  

For more information, please refer to video recording. 

Final remarks and looking forward to the conference in 2021 and Questions & Answers

Mary gave some key takeaways from the event, concluding that all players have their part to play, whether they represent the broader range of skills or the advanced top-level skills needed in emerging technologies, such as AI and robotics. She added that whether there is a personal, or organisational interest, in skills these are all facets of the same issue. Stakeholders must continue to work together and expand their horizons while sharing their expertise to ensure the best results.

Carm ended by stating that this online conference was intended as a precursor for the next conference planned to be held in Malta in Spring 2021. This event may, however, be held online given the current restrictions on travel. He urged participants to provide their feedback and thanked them for joining the event.

For more information, please refer to video recording. 

Useful links