Struggling southern states targeted in ICT training push

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This article is part of our special report e-Skills.

SPECIAL REPORT / EU education ministers met in Brussels last Friday to debate how new online tools can benefit the unemployed, with a specific focus on struggling Mediterranean countries. Meanwhile, a new initiative, the Academy Cube, seeks to bring together all stakeholders on one online platform to retrain unemployed people with e-skills for future ICT jobs.

Despite an EU-wide unemployment rate of more than 10% – and far higher for young people – employers are often unable to find workers with the right information and communications technology (ICT) skills for positions across the labour market.

In addition, students entering the job market are unaware of the immense range of ICT jobs available across industries, from games designers and smart meter installers to car modelling and public-sector services.

The Academy Cube was founded in Germany in November 2012 by a number of companies, universities and public authorities but is set to become a pan-European initiative.

“The idea is to create an open e-learning platform and at the same time a job portal and bring together job seekers, but also employers who would like to recruit talents, job agencies from the member states, universities and those who can offer training content," said Andreas Tegge, vice president for EU government relations at SAP.

"The Academy Cube will initially focus on Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece; those countries with high youth unemployment, but also with a large number of talents," he said.

Reaching the unemployed talent

Tegge mentioned that at the moment the industry needs workers who know how to deal with big data. While SAP has a training course on big data and universities have training courses, the Academy Cube will be in a position to put together one single course on big data which is not available right now.

Most companies have proprietary e-learning platforms and systems, but these are commercial offerings and too expensive, Tegge said, and are therefore frequently out of reach of southern European unemployed.

The Academy Cube's pilot project will begin with 15-20 students from all over Europe, especially southern Europe.

"The concept of the Academy Cube has been well received by the European Commission. It will be our pledge to the EU Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs. We invite other companies, universities, job agencies and other stakeholders to become partners of the Academy Cube,” Tegge said, referring to the Commission's Grand Coalition for Digital Training and Jobs, set to be launched in Brussels at a conference on 4 and 5 March.

The Cube is one of a number of attempted boosts to ICT training that the Grand Coalition will see launched.

New skills-assessment tool

Speaking to EU education ministers in Brussels on Friday (15 February), EU Commissioner for Education Androulla Vassiliou presented a new web-based tool called Education and Skills Online, another key part of the initiative.

This online tool, developed by the Commission and the OECD, aims to help citizens, enterprises and institutions assess their skills for themselves both in terms of their strengths and their weaknesses.

“This will help them identify the areas, where they would benefit from up-skilling and thus help them to improve their chances on the labour market,” Vassiliou said.

The EU's 27 education ministers were meeting in Brussels at the initiative of Ireland, which holds the rotating EU presidency, to debate a discussion paper on education and skills for jobs.

Ireland came with a stark warning: as the EU experiences historically high rates of unemployment, "skills gaps, deficiencies and mismatches are holding Europe back from achieving its full potential in job creation," the paper said.

The skills gaps are being reported precisely in those sectors with high growth potential: the green economy, ICT and healthcare.

Making better use of modern technologies in education and training is also one of the Commission’s priorities, Vassiliou stressed.

“We need to educate our young and not-so-young people to live and thrive in an ICT dominated world. We need to harness the real power of ICTs as new means to meet traditional educational goals such as raising the quality of education and opening up access for all,” she said.

Predicting the future

In Ireland, the government has launched an ambitious plan that seeks to create 100,000 new positions by 2016 and a further 100,000 by 2020.

While the unemployment rate in Ireland is approaching 15%, the government is trying to foresee where Ireland might offer growth opportunities: such as ICT, pharmaceuticals, life sciences, finance and other services.

“We want to empower our young people and our unemployed to give them the skills now at this point in time so that when those jobs do arise, they will be ready to take them up immediately,” said Ciarán Cannon, the Irish minister for education and skills, at an ICT event hosted by Microsoft.

Retraining and up-skilling

Education ministers were invited to share best practice and highlight one practical initiative in their home country.

The Irish government has introduced a new training opportunity called Spring Board. The programme is designed to provide flexible higher education places targeted at unemployed people who have lost jobs mainly in the construction sector following the bursting of the Irish housing bubble in 2007.

The programme is mainly designed for architects, engineers and technicians who have mathematical, analytical, management and life skills that can be used in another sector.

Meanwhile in Germany and Spain voucher-based training models have provided jobs for 60-70% of 20,000 participants, a success that the EU is keen to replicate and scale up t.

Under the German voucher system, young people with a foundation education can redeem a voucher by taking a further course offering digital skills, where there is a demonstrable market need for these.

This pegs the free education initiative to market demand, ensuring that the free educational opportunity offered will culminate in the likelihood of a work offer.

Peter Hagedoorn, secretary-general of the European CIO Association, the independent European not-for-profit representative for the large IT users, told EURACTIV:

"Coming years (already in 2015) Europe is lacking ca. 700,000 well e-skilled people to fulfill the many vacancies in ICT and closely related jobs, like business analysts, security specialists, ICT architects, etc. It's not well known that ICT jobs aren't only offered in the ICT industry, but in fact in all kinds of organisations using ICT: banks, manufacturing companies, governments, SMEs, hospitals, etc. In all these organisations ICT makes the difference with respect to innovation: renewal of organisations is always a matter of applying new technologies to increase efficiencies or to improve the quality of the work and organisation.

"ICT jobs have grown over the last twenty years with ca. 3% per year, also during recession. Unemployed people with an interest in creating added value to whatever organisation should consider studying ICT and to get an ICT job in their sector of interest."

Sebastiano Toffaletti, secretary-general of PIN-SME, a European association that promotes the interests of ICT SMEs, said:

"These are the companies that, together with the global players, can deliver more jobs to Europe. However, SMEs need ICT skilled workers and many small companies face difficulties in recruiting good ICT practitioners. In fact, large ICT enterprises often attract the best selection of highly skilled graduates and, if necessary, can easily recruit people from other countries when they cannot find the right skills locally."

"Instead, SMEs are often left with much less choice. On top of this, they have serious problems in recruiting abroad because the education systems and the academic curricula are so different from one country to another, that local SMEs are unable to cope with such complexity. As a result there are several thousands of unfilled vacancies in some countries, especially in SMEs, and unemployed skilled people in other countries. Europe has a problem of mobility mismatch. Only by solving this mobility mismatch and by retraining unemployed people in ICT, can Europe deliver more jobs," Toffaletti said.

Frits Bussemaker, liaison European relations partner at CIONET in the Netherlands, said one problem, which the Commission has not yet addressed in its initiatives to retrain the e-skills of unemployed Southern European workers, is the lack of English skills in some Southern European countries.

"This language problem makes it very difficult for ICT companies in countries such as The Netherlands and Germany to take on otherwise highly-skilled workers from countries like Portugal and Spain," Bussemaker said.

The EU is currently experiencing historically high rates of unemployment. Over 26 million are out of work, including nearly 5.8 million young people.

Europe needs to take immediate action to restore stability and invest in growth. However skills gaps, deficiencies and mismatches are holding Europe back from achieving its full potential in job creation.

To meet the employment target of 75% set out in the Europe 2020 strategy, 17.6 million jobs need to be created. But skills gaps are being reported in the key sectors where job growth is predicted: The green economy, ICT and healthcare.

Insufficient progress is being made in adapting education and training systems to reflect labour market needs.

  • 4-5 March: Conference in Brussels to launch the Grand Coalition for ICT Skills and Jobs.

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