Developing skills for a digital age in the EU's neighbouring regions

Digital skills and learning are cross-cutting economic and social policy issues that are receiving ever more attention across the globe to ensure economic competitiveness and workforce employability.

The importance of skills for the digital age cannot be underestimated or restricted to certain aspects of work or education given that the digital age permeates all sectors of the economy, education and the daily life of citizens. Learning opportunities need to be equally and equitably accessible to ensure everyone can benefit from the opportunities they afford and that social divisions and exclusion are not exacerbated.

Embracing the digital age requires a holistic approach and a multi-level stakeholder approach building partnerships that include cross-ministerial government representatives, social partners from a variety of sectors including education, and particularly civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations to ensure outreach to the most vulnerable.

Join the ETF over the next two months as part of the ETF's communication campaign on 'Skills for the Digital Age' on a journey of discovery, discussion and debate on the importance of digital skills and their development in the EU's neighbouring regions. 

The importance of data and evidence

The European Training Foundation (ETF) supports the design and implementation of digital skills and learning strategies to modernise vocational education and training systems within a lifelong learning perspective in transition and developing countries in the EU’s neighbouring regions. Its work is informed by European policies and initiatives such as the European Skills Agenda; the Vocational Education and Training Recommendation with its focus on digital skills development for teachers, trainers and managers; the Digital Education Action, Digital Competence Framework for Citizens, and Digital Competence Framework for Educators; and the EU Industrial Strategy amongst others.

Central to the ETF’s work is the systematic gathering of robust data and evidence on the situation within partner countries in order to best advise and support education and labour market policy reforms. The ETF deploys a number of instruments to build intelligence on countries' current and future skill needs drawing upon international data sources and national data, both quantitative and qualitative, such as the Torino Process and the European Skills and Jobs Survey

The information collected broadens our understanding of the digital transition’s varying effects in countries with differing economic contexts and labour market characteristics. For instance, it was found that most jobs in the Western Balkans currently require no or very limited digital skills. Changes taking place at the workplace are not sufficiently accompanied by digital upskilling, while the opportunities for digital upskilling that do exist are unevenly spread and disproportionately targeted towards skilled workers. Yet, new digital technologies are impacting job design in Western Balkan countries in similar ways to their EU neighbours. Only 40% of workers in the Western Balkans had taken part in training during the previous 12 months (compared to 62% in the EU), and only a third of those had received training in digital skills. Flexible learning pathways for labour upskilling are urgently needed.

Lifelong learning needs greater impetus

The ETF's annual policy and system performance monitoring report published in November 2023 reveals that on the whole the quality of skills across countries of Central Asia, Southeastern and Eastern Europe, Türkiye, and the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean varies considerably and that lifelong learning is still a distant goal with adult learners, and especially women lagging behind. There is a clear need for more nuanced approaches in policy and practice and diversified educational and training strategies to address diverse needs. Don't miss the discussions with country experts and ETF and international experts over the next months on how to address these issues and many more for the digital age!

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