NESSI has responded to the EC Call for evidence on improving the provision of digital skills.
In 2020 NESSI undertook a survey of its Partners’ experiences and opinions on software skills and business demand.
In this century, digital skills will be as basic as reading and writing were in the last century. Europe needs to evangelise that everyone should have digital skills, they are not just for geeks.
NESSI therefore welcomes the Proposal for a Council Recommendation on improving the provision of digital skills in education and training. It is essential that the initiative sets out what needs to be done to promote digital skills early on and at all stages of education and training.
Education in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects is vital underpinning for digital skills. The NESSI survey found that many children move away from STEM subjects when they start secondary school, and that this is a key problem. The initiative should identify why STEM subjects do not appeal to secondary schoolchildren and address the removal of those barriers. STEM subjects are often taught by teachers with no qualifications in those subjects; this must be urgently addressed.
Other concrete actions could include sponsored challenges for earlier years education to help promote digital skills, giving every secondary school student a Raspberry Pi or similar, and continuing to invest in graduate-level skills augmented with non-university equivalent routes such as retraining via bootcamps.
Education and training initiatives need to go beyond core digital skills. The NESSI survey found that those who are most successful in roles requiring digital skills are multi-skilled, with broader technical skills underpinning their digital skills and with good soft skills (communications, time management, etc).
Europe needs to establish a culture in which digital skills are respected, with career pathways and structures which promote recognition and career advancement similar to the medical or legal professions.
Europe needs to act fast to become more self-sufficient in digital skills. Employees recruited from outside the EU are as good as those from within the EU, and as other countries advance and their economies grow they will be better able to retain citizens with digital skills.
Digital skills policy should include interventions at the EU level to support business in addressing the digital skills shortage, e.g. increasing the attractiveness of STEM, investing further at primary, secondary and tertiary levels, promoting common curricula across Europe, supporting business engagement in education, and streamlining cross-border administrative processes.