Insight: The value of lifelong learning and digital upskilling

EIT Digital Professional School

How EIT Digital's Professional School builds competitiveness

If we continue to learn throughout our lives, we continue to grow, according to Asja Kamenica, Head of the EIT Digital Professional School.

"I have made learning part of my daily life, and I regularly look for opportunities to learn formally or through daily challenges", she says. "I find personal pleasure in this habit, but I also believe that a certain amount of regular learning is essential in today's fast-changing world".

The ability to take in new skills and information - and sometimes unlearn information that is no longer valid - are indispensable qualities of successful professionals, according to Kamenica, whose career includes 15-plus years of managing and directing higher education programmes in Europe.

An appreciation of the benefits, and challenges, of continuing education shapes the design of the portfolio Kamenica currently leads at EIT Digital's Professional School. The courses offered by the school address the need for upskilling, particularly in digital skills, and enable the kind of lifelong learning that is essential in our knowledge-based economy.

"We understand that access to knowledge and its efficient and innovative application is key for the competitiveness of companies and vital for professional development, performance, and employability", Kamenica says. "The opportunity to participate in additional study or personal development programmes can have a major impact on the life of professionals, as well as their team or their company".

The importance of continuing training throughout our careers is recognised widely. As a European Commission publication on adult education notes: "A multitude of evidence has been gathered over the years showing that adult education and training - both formal and non-formal - can contribute to individuals' employability, health and well-being".

Identifying and building the right skills

Many professionals, especially those whose companies assist in talent development and have a learning and development (L&D) agenda, become conditioned to recognising their own development needs, and the needs of their teams, says Kamenica. "They steer their careers by regularly upskilling themselves and overseeing the knowledge upgrades that are needed to maintain and increase their team's performance," she explains.

The wisdom of companies encouraging continued learning is noted by Andrew McConnell, a CEO whose article in Forbes singles out Google's programme to give employees 20% of their time to explore areas beyond their main responsibilities: "The idea is to create space for employees to explore and grow outside of their day jobs. This growth and exploration certainly benefit the employees as individuals, but it also creates better results for the business. Gmail and Google Maps both started as side projects".

To be truly effective, the learning we do must involve more than simply taking in information, according to a recommendation on lifelong learning from the EU Council.

"In the knowledge economy, memorisation of facts and procedures is key, but not enough for progress and success. Skills, such as problem-solving, critical thinking, ability to cooperate, creativity, computational thinking, self-regulation are more essential than ever before in our quickly changing society", the recommendation says.

Meanwhile, according to research for the European Commission, the type of information we require and use is constantly changing: "Competence needs are not static; they change throughout life and across generations. It is therefore important to make sure that all young people and adults have the opportunity to acquire the required competences in initial education and training, higher education, continuous professional training, adult education or different forms of non-formal and informal learning".

The importance of digital skills

A review of the current competence needs in today's market makes it clear that digital upskilling is more necessary than ever, according to Kamenica. The digitisation trend has been going on for years now, and more recently, the pandemic prompted many companies to adapt more quickly to new technologies.

"Technology is a key driver for many businesses. It evolves quickly and can advance industries at a fast pace, but the rapid pace of change often creates a gap between the existing workforce's skills and the skills that have become necessary to execute their jobs effectively", says Kamenica. "Through investment in regular training and L&D management and budgets, many companies take care to advance employees' skills to bridge this gap. This naturally leads to benefits such as less turnover, increased growth opportunities, and better productivity and employee satisfaction".

The World Economic Forum has identified continuing trends that point toward greater importance for digital upskilling: "Half of us will need to reskill in the next five years, as the ‘double-disruption' of the economic impacts of the pandemic and increasing automation transforming jobs takes hold," according to a WEF publication. "The Forum estimates that by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines. But even more jobs - 97 million - may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms".

Another WEF publication notes the close relationship between the digital and green transitions, and points out the potential benefits beyond the labour market: "Upskilling may even have wider environmental benefits. The more digitally literate we are, the more we are able to create efficiencies that contribute to environmental sustainability".

EIT Digital's own Digital Technologies and the Green Economy Report also identified how the digital transition benefits the economy and environment by enabling sustainable development.

And research by PwC shows benefits for innovation from upskilling: "PwC's Talent Trends 2020 found organisations with the most advanced upskilling programmes saw three times the improvement in innovation", says a PwC publication.

The EIT Digital philosophy on digital upskilling

The main objective of the EIT Digital Professional School is to keep European professionals at the forefront of today's fast-paced digital technologies, according to Kamenica. She says this approach enables professionals to undertake meaningful innovation.

"We emphasise the business value of the courses. The executives and managers who are upskilled in our courses are able to realise value from their new skills in the short and long term", she explains. "The courses achieve this by offering hands-on learning and engaging professionals in crafting the best solutions for their companies through practical sessions".

Companies also realise value from these skills, she notes. "Firms that enjoy digitally-enabled leadership, management, and talent are in a special position to leverage the full potential of digitalisation", according to Kamenica. "The professionals who take our courses are able to take part in modernising their company's technology, thereby contributing to its strategic success".

A unique benefit of EIT Digital educational programmes is the backing of EIT Digital's powerful network of international partners from industry, research and academia. This enables the EIT Digital Professional School to develop a solid portfolio of courses with several of Europe's top-ranking technology universities, working in close cooperation with EIT Digital industry partners, Kamenica says.

The industry partners bring an awareness of the real needs of businesses, and they also add to an appreciation of what matters to professional learners, according to Kamenica. That includes consideration of busy schedules.

"EIT Digital Professional School courses are designed to be consumed in a short time frame with minimum time away from work," she says. "We understand that short courses fit well into the busy schedules of managers and executives."

As Kamenica explains, catering to busy professionals while providing practical hands-on training in the appropriate subjects is essential to delivering real value through the EIT Digital Professional school.

Find out more about the EIT Digital Professional School.

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Co-Funded by the European Union