Accelerating Advanced Digital Skills within European SMEs: a discussion

On 15 and 16 June, the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the European Union and the European Commission hosted in Stockholm the 2023 edition of the Digital Assembly, this year on the theme of a digital, open and secure Europe.

Within the program of the two day event, the European Commission Unit of DG CNECT, Interactive Technologies, Digital for Culture and Education, in collaboration with the Digital Skills and Jobs Platform organised a session on “Accelerating Advanced Digital Skills within European SMEs”.

The focus of the discussion was how can we accelerate the upskilling of the workforce and management within Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) with the Advanced Digital Skills they need to innovate and grow in a highly successful and sustainable way.

Anne Bajart of the European Commission opened the discussion and set the frame for the following speakers to debate, based on practical examples and good practices from around Europe.

video message from Ukraine featured Anastasia Bondar, Ukrainian Deputy Minister for Digital Development, Digital Transformations and Digitalization, who presented the initiative Save the Ukrainian Monuments (SUM), aimed to preserve Ukrainian cultural heritage and monuments from the destruction of war through digitalisation.

Ana Andrjc, representing the Swedish National Coalition for Digital Skills and Jobs then presented the Swedish Coalition network and highlighted the skills gap in ICT in Sweden: 70.000 professionals are needed to support fully the growth of local industry. Ana showcased the ongoing campaign to attract and train new ICT talents: “Addera tech” (“Add tech”) aims to advice, inspire and train future digital professionals to fill the skills gap in Sweden.

At the core of the session was the panel discussion, moderated by Vitis Faure Tilgaard of the European Commission, with a panel of high level speakers from the industry sector, the academic world and the Digital Innovation Hubs.

Antonio Grasso, policy director at Digital SME Alliance brought the perspective of the industry, highlighting the variety of SMEs and variety of sectors, where some are already digitalized, while others are only at the beginning of their digitalization journey. In this situation, the role of that part of the industry which is already digitized, in driving the skills development of all industrial ecosystems is fundamental. Antonio also pointed out the need to have “basic digital skills that are cross contaminating all the industrial ecosystems”.

Horacio González-Vélez represented the academic and research point of view. Gonzalo is Head of the Cloud Competency Centre at the National College of Ireland, and was also representing the point of view of the recently launched DEP Master “Digital4Business”, specifically targeted for the upskilling of the workforce. His recipe for reducing the digital skills gap in Europe is focused on education but most of all, on access to education. He highlighted the need for the right programs to support the current and future workforce, quoting the MSc program Digital4Business as one concrete example of a training developed with and for SMEs.

Fundamental to the discussion was the point of view of the two speakers from the Digital Innovation Hubs: Aiga Irmeja, Executive Director of the IT Cluster Digital Innovation Hub of Latvia, and Irina Toma, Coordinator of the FIT Digital Innovation Hub in Romania.  The need to activate synergies and create a coherent ecosystem was at the core of the discussion, highlighting how the best practices in the upskilling of SMEs have been those who activated multiple stakeholders, while involving also directly the target public, the entrepreneurs and their teams. 

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