Diversity and Inclusion

Digital Skills for a Stronger European Recovery

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Digital Skills as a key part of Economic Recovery for Europe

It’s no secret the future of work is one of the most urgent questions of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Some jobs will go away, new ones will be created, and all jobs will be forever changed by emerging technologies and the advancement of artificial intelligence and robotics. It is clear that COVID-19 has only accelerated this process. While IBM and others are creating 16 million more highly-skilled jobs by 2024 globally, we are challenged to find workers with the right skills to fill them.

As millions of children and students have returned to school in the past few weeks, the European Commission has just announced its Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027 to further promote high quality and inclusive education and training in the digital age. This updated Action Plan will reflect on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis and offer a vision for education and training that makes use of the opportunities that digital transformation brings, while addressing challenges and risks.

The European Commission has also said the renewed Action Plan will be central to the Next Generation EU recovery period, supporting Member States, education and training institutions as well as citizens in their efforts to deal with the digital change.


A post-COVID-19 Action Plan for digital education

The European Commission consulted many stakeholders to ensure the new Digital Education Action Plan reflects the education and training experience during the COVID-19 crisis. IBM is committed to fostering a culture of lifelong learning to create career opportunities for all in a rapidly changing industry, and welcomes those initiatives and consultations that seek to shape public policy based on experiences gained from operating remote, web-based learning models.

The Commission’s Digital Education Action Plan sets out guiding principles that underpin strategic priorities to be taken forward at the EU level. To improve the development in the area of digital education, the European Commission will pursue actions in a number of critical areas, including:

  • Equipping Europe’s workers and job seekers with digital skills, which will be critical for economic recovery in the coming years.
  • Improving computing education in schools which require a partnership approach, involving higher education, non-formal education, as well and industry and education research.
  • Although many efforts and initiatives are underway to boost advanced digital skills, on-going efforts must be recognised, promoted and scaled-up.

At IBM, as one of the world’s largest employers and one of the largest technology employers in Europe, we are fully supportive of these objectives and have sought to lead by example by setting up innovative platforms to bridge the skills gap. We enable both our global workforce and people worldwide, with a particular focus on underserved communities to acquire the skills they need to succeed.

Some examples of what IBM has been doing include:

    • “New Collar” Jobs — IBM has identified many jobs previously reserved for candidates with university degrees that in fact can be filled by candidates with the right skills and work experience and who may lack the formal credential of a degree.  These new collar jobs broaden the base of candidates and add diversity to recruitment for high paying jobs in areas such as cloud, cybersecurity, and digital design. Jobs created through the Digital Single Market must be for the many, not just the elite few.
    • YourLearning — IBM’s digital learning platform, Your Learning, uses Watson AI technology to generate personalized recommendations for IBMers. Available 24/7 on mobile and desktop devices, these platforms enable IBMers to set learning and skilling goals, challenge others, and receive digital nudges and notifications. In 2019, the average IBMer logged 77 hours of learning, reflecting our commitment to every IBMer having access to the resources to build strategic skills, grow their careers, and face the future with confidence.
    • Digital badges — IBM partnered with Acclaim to develop, launch, evaluate and maintain an industry-leading digital badge program to increase employee recognition and motivate skill progression across our ecosystem. IBM customers are also provided with an easy-to-use platform that shows that IBM badge earners possess verifiable, in-demand skills and knowledge. IBM has already issued more than 3 million badges and hosts about 2,500 activities where badges are issued, and 67% of those digital badges were earned in strategic imperative skills such as AI, analytics and Design Thinking.
    • P-TECH is IBM’s combo high school and college education model is driving an effective public-private partnership and generating concrete results. Students have real project experience in high school with P-TECH teachers, industry and university partners. Based on gained knowledge and skills in modern technologies, AI, project management, problem solving and other valuable skills, students can make better decisions about their education and career future. P-TECH currently has 150,000 students in its pipeline and is present in 24 countries, including Ireland, the UK, France, Czech Republic, Italy and Poland. In EU countries we are connecting P-TECH content and outcomes with European Qualification Framework. The program’s success mainly lies in its ability to create effective cooperation between various educational partners, the fact that it’s multidisciplinary, interactive and innovative, and that it creates opportunities for new educational content through structured thematic planning.
    • Open P-tech, a free digital education experience platform, is available for everyone across the globe, with the goal of equipping young people and educators with knowledge about cybersecurity, AI and cloud computing, plus professional skills like resume writing and interviewing. Open P-tech helps teachers create their own content. More than 80% of students who successfully finished the Cybersecurity course said they would like to see similar courses as part of their education. On a national level, some EU governments are interested in pilot Open P-tech courses as micro-credentials.
    • SkillsBuild — The shelf-life of skills is also getting shorter. ‘IBM SkillsBuild’ offers digital learning content and personalized coaches to help job seekers develop the technical and professional skills needed to re-enter the workforce. IBM is already partnering with 40 NGOs around Europe to bring this program to adult learners wishing to reskill or upskill.
    • Responding to the pandemic — We are also marshaling our resources and bringing together the right communities of experts to work together through the COVID-19 outbreak to solve difficult problems. To supporting remote learning in Europe, IBM and Cisco partnered to implement school distance learning tools. With 3,700 IBM volunteers, the programme reached over 200,000 students in 2,300 schools in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and the UK. The tools have also been deployed by 50 charitable organizations. Additionally, our free digital education platform Open P-tech also played a crucial part of our response to the pandemic in enhancing digital skills for people around the world.

These approaches can facilitate career transitions and make the tech industry more diverse, more inclusive and more committed to bringing in people with non-traditional backgrounds.


Our recommendations to bridge the skills gap in Europe

Bridging the skills gap is not something European institutions, or even European governments, can do alone. Instead, governments should work together with employers and other stakeholders to find the best way forward to ensure workers have the right mix of in-demand professional and technical skills.

At IBM, we encourage European policymakers to partner with businesses to increase coordination and best practice sharing between all players on curriculum development, but also to encourage the design of vocational education pathways that involve strong engagement of business with the school and higher education systems. Policymakers can also support testing and scaling-up of effective business-sponsored models for reskilling and upskilling.

In the context of the Commission’s Digital Education Action Plan, IBM calls on Member States to include technology education structures, such as IBM’s P-TECH initiatives, as part of their economic reform programmes and acknowledge the crucial role digital education plays for the long term sustainability of Europe’s economies.

European governments can also adapt educational programs to the educational needs in their country by prioritising public funding to private-public collaborations. In doing so, the focus should lie on supporting digitized, platform-based solutions and reusable assets.

The power of data and AI can help map out reskilling opportunities. This will help workers, companies and governments to prioritise actions, time and resources spent on reskilling the workforce in a more effective and efficient way.

Digital Education should not be for the few but for the many. Badging and micro-credentials are just a few examples of quickly implementable and market-relevant tools that can reach European citizens in rural areas with limited access to traditional university.

As one of Europe’s largest technology employers, IBM supports the European Commission’s Digital Education Action Plan, and its plan to equip Europe’s workers with digital skills, improve computing education in schools, and ensure on-going efforts are scaled-up. IBM has been doing exactly that, with projects such as P-TECH or SkillsBuild, initiatives such as badging, micro-credentials, and new collar jobs. We recommend European governments to leverage such best-practices from private organisations as these initiatives can help European governments in their efforts to ensure that Europe’s workforce and economies are future-proof.

Authored by Fredrik Sjögren, Government and Regulatory Affairs Executive


For more information about IBM’s external skills programs, including P-TECH, Open P-TECH and SkillsBuild , please contact Michael Evason, Corporate Social Responsibility Leader for IBM Europe at evasonmi@uk.ibm.com


Media inquiries: Michaël Cloots (+32 496 590 311)

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