The digitisation of the economy is one of the most important drivers behind the profound transformation of the labour market and the way people work, according to Carmel Cachia, Chief Administrator at eSkills Malta Foundation, who told The Malta Business Observer that the entity is continuously striving to liaise with partners across sectors to strengthen digital skills.
The eSkills Malta Foundation is a digital foundation launched by the Government in April 2014, though the founding members come from Government, industry and education.
“This provides the Foundation with the right multi-sectoral partnership for the development of digital skills and competences in Malta,” said Mr Cachia, adding that “improving professionalism and recognition within the ICT community is crucial for the future.”
In general, the ICT sector, education sector, SMEs, and citizens are the beneficiaries of the work done by the Foundation.
Fully aware of the European and local developments in the digital sector, the Foundation works diligently on several strategic goals. Contributing to policy development by the various existing digital stakeholders – from Government, education or industry – is one of its priorities. Another goal includes the popularising of ICT careers and roles in the digital sector.
The aim here is to increase the number of students taking up ICT, and the number of professionals joining the sector.
The Foundation engages with myriad stakeholders to organise initiatives to address the perception of ICT careers so that individuals can base career decisions on informed views. Thus, energising the education ecosystem is one of the most important targets of the Foundation.
The ICT education system in Malta needs regular support to provide the competences and skills needed by the ICT industry.
The Foundation strives to increase short-term skill supply because a lack of these competences constrains economic growth; it also works at increasing awareness on the future skills trajectories, providing guidelines on continuous professional development, and promoting the best HR practices in the digital sector, Mr Cachia elaborated.
Moreover, the Chief Administrator continued, the Foundation keeps a close eye on what’s going on in Europe when it comes to standards, frameworks and initiatives related to digital skills, competences, as well as to the development of the ICT profession.
This helps the country be in line with European best practices. Indeed, to give Malta a more focused and clear direction on digital skills, eSkills Malta Foundation launched the National eSkills Strategy for 2019-2021 in March 2019.
“The strategy is working well and has contributed to the high ranking Malta achieved in the European Digital and Economy Index (DESI), coming 5th among 28 member states in 2020,” Mr Cachia asserted.
From the European perspective Mr Cachia said that “the Commission provides several initiatives to improve and consolidate the areas mentioned above, and the future bodes well for all countries since more funding has been made available.”
He further added that these initiatives consolidate the strong view of a Single Digital market where borders virtually disappear for the benefit of all members. “These initiatives are also needed to be able to compete with the rest of the world continents,” Mr Cachia continued.
Elaborating, the Chief Administrator specified that “one of the most important initiatives is the Digital Europe Work Programmes (DEP) to be introduced by the European Commission.”
The Programme will reinforce EU critical digital capacities by focusing on the key areas of artificial intelligence (AI), cybersecurity, advanced computing, data infrastructure, governance and their deployment for critical sectors.
Among others, the sectors include health, energy, environment, manufacturing and agriculture. The Programme also targets upskilling the workforce with advanced digital technologies through the support of industry, SMEs and Government, who are attempting, undergoing or planning digital transformation.
The areas in the Programme are inter-related so that AI relies on proper cybersecurity to ensure secure and trustworthy data, making use of high-performance computing to process the vast amount of data obtained.
At the same time, Mr Cachia asserted, digital skills are required in all areas to meet future needs, adding that“COVID-19 has confirmed how societies and economies depend on digital solutions, but it also drew attention on Europe’s weakness of having to depend on other regions of the world.”
Thus, to strengthen the Union’s capabilities better, the DEP also builds, among others, on previous joint European commitments in AI and its trustworthiness, cybersecurity, EuroHPC, European Data Strategy, and Digital Innovation Hubs.
Moving on, Mr Cachia also identified the upcoming new Digital Action Education Plan (DEAP) as an important initiative by the Commission.
“This should be issued in the last quarter of 2020. The current DEAP 2018-2020 already includes some important aspects like the better use of digital technology for teaching and learning, the development of digital competences and skills, improving education through the better use of data analysis and foresight.
“COVID-19 will be a major influencer for the upcoming DEAP,” he explained.
Furthermore, “other European initiatives that have impacted member states include the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition. They will unveil an ambitious cross-border digital skills platform. The European e-Competence Framework was also released,” he continued, emphasising that the European Commission initiatives do not work in silos but are usually run to complement each other.
Turning onto the emerging technologies and how these may affect business, the Chief Administrator said that “disruptive technology created the digital transformation in organisations and will create new opportunities that are there to be taken.”
He cited the example of the World Wide Web – “one of the biggest disruptive technologies” and said that although it shook business models from top to bottom, it created so many global opportunities that, today, most successful companies cannot survive without it.
Thus, “the disruption and change in technology will bring about a transformation in business operations. Those that embrace this change, and prepare for it, stand to benefit from a business and competitive edge, while those that don’t will risk a loss in business,” Mr Cachia asserted, specifying that the disrupting technologies of AI and cognitive systems, robotics and their convergence, the Internet of Things, Data Analytics, and high-performance and quantum, to mention just a few, are already taking centre stage.
In turn, this is creating considerable demand for the upskilling of business leaders, the workforce and ICT professionals, he continued.
“For instance, the Internet of Things (IoT) is not just the use of the Internet, but it enables devices to connect to Internet technology, possibly with cloud data, to extract instantaneous information and updates to enable proper business analytics within a secure environment.”
Concluding, Mr Cachia cited some evidence in EU studies that indicate that, in some job categories, more than 90 per cent of jobs require specific digital skills, adding that the evidence indicates that this requirement is particularly the case for high and medium-skilled jobs.
“It is well accepted nowadays that 90 per cent of EU employers state that managers, professionals, technicians, clerical workers, sales or skilled agricultural workers are required to possess at least basic digital skills,” he underlined.
This interview was first carried in the July edition of The Malta Business Observer