European year of skills: How to upskill and reskill workers to meet labour market needs

With complex jobs requiring higher skills, and labour market demand changing faster than education patterns, upskilling and reskilling have become crucial to meeting the needs of the labour market.

The skills gap in Europe has been a growing concern for years, as the economy and job market continue to shift towards more technologically advanced industries. According to the 2022 Digital Economy and Society Index, only 54% of Europeans aged between 16 -74 have at least basic digital skills.

The European Year of Skills 2023 aims to address these gaps through partnerships between public employment services and private providers, as well as by encouraging companies to invest in their own employees through upskilling and reskilling programmes.

By working together, policymakers, educators, and businesses can create a more inclusive and resilient workforce that is ready to face the challenges of the digital age.

Here’s how it could play out and some advice from EIT Digital experts.

Engage in Lifelong Learning

As the types of skills needed in the labour market change rapidly, individuals must engage in lifelong learning to remain employable and to achieve fulfilling and rewarding careers.

Salvatore Moccia "Skills supply will be directly impacted by demographic change. Complex jobs requiring higher skills will make young people stay longer in education. Continuing vocational education and training (VET) and adult learning are therefore important in tackling skill mismatches and obsolescence," Salvatore Moccia, EIT Digital Master School Lead, explains.

Learning new skills and upskilling will be important not only for the individual but also for society as a whole, to have a workforce that is skilled, adaptable, and future-proof.

For companies, upskilling and reskilling employees is essential to staying ahead of industry trends and remaining competitive. Benefits include increased productivity, improved job satisfaction and better customer service.

Some companies try to fill the skills gap by recruiting new, external, talent, but this strategy can negatively affect loyalty and retention rate of current team members.

Reskilling and upskilling the existing workforce

Asja Kamenica "The solution to the skills gap often lies within the current workforce. For example, training and certification linked to new technology for existing employees that already possess other hard-to-find skills are often more cost-effective, less risky and time-consuming than hiring new staff," Asja Kamenica, Head of the EIT Digital Professional School, says.

By investing in cross-training and upskilling, companies secure access to a healthy pool of talent that other businesses may be missing out on while struggling to hire new digitally savvy professionals.

Sergio Balassone "More structured and long-term reskilling and upskilling strategies are critical for those companies willing to contribute with a socially responsible approach to the future of work," Sergio Balassone, Head of the EIT Digital Summer School comments.

Besides that, it's worth noting that upskilling is not to be conducted only to address the skills gap but also as an important step toward improving diversity and inclusion. So, it is crucial to look at what is done on the level of the Learning and Development (L&D) profession and its role in creating an inclusive organisational culture, building Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) policies and generally bringing focus on equity in organisations.

Updating public and private Education programmes

The entire European public education system, from primary schools up to universities, needs to urgently modernize the largely outdated digital education programmes. The public offering must reform its curricula both at the primary and secondary level, and at university level, by making them more responsive to the changing technologies and labour market needs.

This requires organisational and governance reforms to open the systems to partnerships with civil society. As well as tangible investments in connectivity and new training for both teachers and professors.

The EU relies on public employment services (PES) to sketch the roadmap for more effective and inclusive investment in training and upskilling.  The reach of national PES and their capacity depends on the countries they operate in but also on their structure and authority on the national level. However, public employment services (PES) are far from being the only actors that can address this challenge.

To improve the quality of services by PES and, with this, the dialogue around effectiveness and inclusiveness within training, partnerships with private providers are vital.

The scattered private digital education initiatives should move to a complementary, broader, and better coordinated overall offering of digital skills initiatives.

Policymakers play a vital role in promoting more effective and inclusive investment in training and upskilling.

"Policymakers have a responsibility to ensure that education and training systems are designed to meet the needs of the labour market," notes Kamenica. "This includes providing adequate funding for training and upskilling initiatives, developing policies that support lifelong learning, and collaborating with the private sector to ensure that training programmes meet the needs of industry."

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