AUAS: Call to bridge Europe’s digital skills gap

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Today, on Europe Day, the European Commission (EC) is officially kicking off the '2023 Year of Skills'. This is important, because Europe is facing a serious digital skills gap: only 54% of Europeans possess a basic digital skill set, despite 90% of jobs having a digital component to them*. Ronald Kleijn, who developed the successful retraining programme Make IT Work at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS), is coordinating the EU Pact for Skills Digital which aims to bridge Europe's digital skills gap.

EC President Ursula von der Leyen declared 2023 as the Year of Skills during her State of the Union speech . The European labour market must transform to keep pace with the rapid changes underway related to the green and digital transitions. This requires workers to adapt and employers too - there must be sufficient opportunities for people to access upskilling and reskilling opportunities that align with companies’ needs. AUAS’s Ronald Kleijn, Manager of Regional Partnerships, is an expert on this topic. He developed a highly successful retraining programme called Make IT Work , which to date has helped over 1,100 people in the Netherlands to transition to careers in the IT sector.

This success has not gone unnoticed – Kleijn was approached by the EC to share his reskilling expertise at the European level by taking up the position of Coordinator of the EU Pact for Skills Digital, working closely with the European Digital SME Alliance  and Telecom Italia.

Digital Pact for Skills

Major mobilisation across public and private sectors is necessary to resolve the European skills shortage. The driving force behind this change are the so-called Pact for Skills  partnerships. These groups are tasked with encouraging employers, educational institutions, trade unions and other stakeholders in specific sectors to take action to upskill and reskill Europe’s workers. 

‘In my role at the helm of the Pact for Skills focusing on the digital industry, I coordinate a group of around 120 stakeholders who are working together to scale up reskilling and upskilling best practices. Right now, we’re identifying the initiatives that can make the greatest impact in reskilling and redeploying workers to shortage sectors so Europe can stay competitive in the future,’ says Kleijn.

The digital sector faces various challenges: the shortage of ICT specialists and other technology experts; the shortage of digital experts in traditional companies of all sizes; the rapid pace of transformation of the industry and its effect on jobs and skills; ageism and gender imbalance; and cybersecurity, among others.

Kleijn says that the digital skills gap is particularly concerning because in addition to the challenges affecting companies in the industry itself – telecommunications, software, programming, data processing, hosting, manufacturing of computers and electronics, etc – it is also an overarching theme that affects all industries on the EU skills agenda , from healthcare to retail, aero-space and defence, and tourism, to name a few.

‘In this unique Pact for Skills coordinator role for AUAS – as far as I know the only coordinator role held by a European UAS – we have an opportunity to be part of change at the European scale and to help address a big problem that goes beyond our own borders. The potential impact is huge.’

Lifelong learning

Kleijn is in Brussels this week for the Year of Skills Festival.  He will also speak at a side event on lifelong learning, organised by Neth-ER (Netherlands house for Education and Research, which represents the Dutch knowledge community in Brussels).

‘Lifelong learning is integral to AUAS’s strategy and commitment to increase our impact together with urban partners. Programmes like Make IT Work and others that retrain professionals who are switching to different jobs and sectors play an important role in meeting the needs of the labour market in Amsterdam, and beyond,’ says Kleijn.

On 10 May from 11:00 – 12:30 , Kleijn will present insights from Make IT Work and the Digital Pact for Skills alongside other experts from the Netherlands. The hybrid event ‘The European Year of Skills: How to foster Lifelong Learning?” zooms in on the concept of lifelong learning, how Dutch educational institutions can contribute and the connection to the broader EU agenda.

Looking ahead, Kleijn says that after identifying the best practices within the Pact for Skills Digital network, the next step is to get specific companies on board. Groups of public-private stakeholders can then submit funding requests to the EC to make their vision a reality, as EU funds are reserved specifically for the purpose of executing Pact for Skills projects. ‘There’s so much momentum and potential behind this initiative and I’m eager to see what we can achieve in the near future as the Digital Pact for Skills starts to materialise in large-scale reskilling and upskilling projects across Europe,’ he says.

*According to the Digital Economy and Society Index 2021.

Register for the webinar on May 10.

This article was first published on 9 May by Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.

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