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Meeting the digital skills challenges of the future

Currently, Malta is ranked 12th in the 2018 European Digital Economy and Social Skills Index (DESI). This is a measurement carried out annually by the EU on all Member States to track the evolution of digital competitiveness.

Malta has improved in most aspects in the index, except in the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates. Although we are better than 17 other countries, we should always keep asking ourselves whether we are doing enough.

The eSkills Malta Foundation keeps striving to bring together and collaborate with all stakeholders to raise a bar in initiatives to improve digital skills in Malta. The following are some international best practices that the foundation encourages stakeholders – whether they are NGOs, businesses, organisations, or indeed government entities – to work on. In some of them, Malta is doing well, but in others, we are weak.

From an early stage we must engage children, demystify digital skills and teach them how to use technology in the course of their lives. At the same time, we must improve their understanding of digital careers to make technology and the digital era fun, by connecting STEM and art subjects in the curriculum. The gender imbalance and bias in technology is indicative that we need to step up on this issue. Digital skills must also be harnessed to empower children with special needs.

There must be a strong push to inspire girls to follow digital subjects and careers. The EU has stepped up its support on the gender issue as this will help solve most of the problems in improving both the quantity and quality of skills in the digital sector. We must seek more women role models for the digital sector and collaborate with businesses to encourage women to acquire digital skills at all levels and not just a graduate level. Understanding better why girls do not pursue STEM subjects is key.

Workers and prospective workers must become aware of the digital skills needs in all sectors and how this demand is increasing year on year. The world economy has arrived at another cycle of major change which will transform many jobs. Workers must be aware that digital skills are not just for geeks. Workers who do not tune themselves to use technology will lose their jobs.

Industry must encourage more training, starting from schools, to use digital skills in all non-STEM subject and then create a culture of lifelong, self-run learning, making use of the vast and already existing free online learning resources.

It is not just industry that has an obligation to promote awareness of digital skills, but also the education system. Schools should be well equipped to teach and use digital technology, supporting non-ICT teachers with training in basic digital skills, upskilling ICT teachers in computer science and ICT subjects, encourage the subjects of computational thinking and coding for all, and create industry shadowing programmes for teachers.

When students come to think about their future, they may decide to undertake an apprenticeship; therefore students need to be aware of the recognition of such apprenticiships in the digital sector.

Not only will this encourage further engagement of students in apprenticeships, but it will enable Malta to set a national target for the number of organisations supporting apprenticeships; if possible, such organisations should be rewarded with fiscal incentives.

We will not have enough people to cater for the needs of the digital sector unless we create new routes to enter careers in ICT, and this makes it an essential challenge in our country. Promoting Malta internationally as the ideal place to seek a career in ICT will also help to come up with more numbers, and once we have them, we should encourage and reward through creative programmes the volunteers who work hard to increase digital skills for society and industry. These are usually small NGOs working on shoestring budgets, carrying out their work without giving importance in making money.

All countries in the world know that to succeed in industrial competition and ensure the wellbeing of society, they must become a digital nation. All countries in the EU are gearing up to offer the best possible digital skills or computer science education to students, teachers, employers, their workforces and other citizens. There is need for all stakeholders to work harder to have a digital society for the future.

Carm Cachia is chief administrator, eSkills Malta Foundation.

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