Making the digital transition work for everyone, in the European Union and beyond 

Cedefop virtual get together with ETF, 7 November 2023

On 7 November 2023, Cedefop (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training) and the ETF (European Training Foundation) organized a virtual get-together to present and discuss the main findings of the Cedefop second European skills and jobs survey (ESJS2). ESJS is Cedefop’s periodic EU-wide survey, aimed at collecting information on skill requirements, skill mismatches, and initial and continuing learning of adult workers in EU labour markets.  

Looking beyond the EU 

For this second edition, Cedefop joined forces with the ETF to expand the survey’s scope to include EU neighbourhood countries. After being developed and carried out by Cedefop in 2021 – in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic – in the EU-27 countries plus Norway and Iceland, it was deployed by the ETF the following year in the six Western Balkan countries and Israel. The result is a unique international appraisal of the changing skill needs and job tasks of workers in the wake of digitalisation, and their adaptability to technological change via high-quality initial and continuing VET. 

A timely initiative 

Opening the event, ETF Director Pilvi Torsti stressed the timeliness of this new data, in a context in which geo-political upheaval and the EU enlargement agenda have thrust a spotlight onto the Western Balkan region.

“This survey is going to make it possible to conduct evidence-based analysis of the region, to develop lifelong learning opportunities in line with the EU’s policy agenda,” she said.

With policy advice representing a key pillar of the ETF’s work, the survey data strengthens the ETF’s intelligence in the EU partner countries. Torsti added that it also broadens our understanding of the digital transition’s varying effects in countries with differing economic contexts and labour market characteristics. 

Regional specificities 

Those varying effects were pinpointed by the ETF’s Human Capital Development and Labour Market Expert, Eva Jansova. Presenting selected findings from the ETF partner countries, she told participants 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.  

Underlying similarities 

But the story is not only about differences. Jansova also noted that new digital technologies are impacting job design in Western Balkan countries in similar ways to their EU neighbours. In both areas, the automation of some existing tasks is being accompanied by requests for workers to perform different tasks to the ones they carried out before. Automation is disproportionately affecting older male workers, and those working in clerical support and in financial, professional, scientific and technical services. Meanwhile, automation is having a reduced effect in more traditional sectors like agriculture. 

Upskilling the labour force 

So, what are the digital skills needed in the region? Jansova stressed that the need for digital skills is highest among workers with tertiary education, in skilled sectors. In the Western Balkans, young workers also need to be singled out for digital skills training. The situation is particularly urgent in a context in which participation in training for job-related skills is significantly lower than the EU average. Only 40% of workers in the West 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.

“These findings are going to be a very important resource in planning future EU interventions in the region,” said Jansova. “There is a clear need to create flexible learning pathways for labour upskilling. In general, upskilling needs to be prioritised.” 

Bridging the divide 

Closing the event, Cedefop Executive Director, Jürgen Siebel, underlined how reliable surveys like ESJS2 are key ingredients in creating a digital transition that will work for everyone.

“This survey’s extension to EU neighbourhood countries provides additional added value,” said Siebel. “By helping to bridge the digital divide between the EU and its neighbours, it’s a big step in the right direction.”

By delivering robust data to ensure that VET policy targets the populations most in need of digital skills, ESJS2 has just made that bridge a whole lot stronger.    

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