As the digital transformation of economy and society accelerates, the question of a just and inclusive transformation must be at the forefront of considerations for deciders in the public and private sector.
“The Digital Decade is about making digital technology work for people and businesses. It is about enabling everyone to have the skills to participate in the digital society. To be empowered. It is about empowering businesses. It is about the infrastructure that keeps us connected. It is about bringing government services closer to citizens. Europe’s digital transformation will give opportunities for everyone.” Margrethe Vestager, executive vice president for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, July 2022.
The European Union (EU) has grasped the urgency and importance of providing digital skills to citizens, declaring 2023 the European Year of Skills. Reaching the EU’s goal of 80 percent of Europeans with basic digital skills and 20 million ICT specialists by 2030 won’t happen in a snap. The opportunities here are immense: the World Economic Forum predicts 97 million new jobs related to technology. Many promise to be better jobs than the ones they will replace. Because skills in cybersecurity or the internet of things, for example, can lead to positions that offer opportunities for advancement and life-changing opportunities for people everywhere, including underprivileged or marginalized communities around the world.
The scale of the digital skills challenge and opportunity demands close collaboration with the tech industry, governments, and academia — to close the gap in technology skills that stood at 2 million unfilled tech jobs globally in 2022.
What’s more, those who have been displaced will in many cases be good candidates to upskill for the new roles. A high percentage of these jobs don’t necessarily require a high-level degree, for example. Many roles demand candidates have the right tech skills rather than degrees.
Accessibility and flexibility are key
If there is one glaring truth that surfaces from all my encounters throughout Europe it’s that for a training and upskilling program to work, learners must be empowered in ever more flexible ways, to learn where and when they want.
A learner-centric approach is what will make a training program relevant to learners. I firmly believe that our focus on regularly offering new pathways and learning formats is one of the main reasons the Cisco Networking Academy has managed to empower over 17 million learners in 25 years.
Our new Skills For All offering, which proposes self-paced introductory and intermediary courses in cybersecurity, networking and data management, will continue to contribute to this success. It lowers the barriers to entry by allowing learners to dip their toes in the water on their own terms before deciding whether to take the plunge.
Jobs in IT can provide an accessible opportunity for people looking to change their lives and launch themselves into a new career. This is even more true for the underprivileged, underrepresented and underserved.
One obvious starting point is addressing the gender gap in tech. Historically, 26 percent of Networking Academy students over the past 25 years have been women. We’ve made strides forward, but we seek more to benefit from the wider perspective and fresh ideas that the strong inclusion brings of women in the IT sector. This flexibility, however, must be accompanied with a clear effort to remain accessible to as many stakeholders as possible. One of the secrets to the success of our program is the long-term collaboration with public-sector education, administrations, and even armed forces. A collaboration that rests on our focus on keeping our program free of charge and vendor agnostic, and on focusing on training learners in the skills required in the industry.
Reaching every sector with the right digital skills
The challenge we face is that the digital transformation in Europe is not exclusively the business of tech and IT. It impacts everything, from the average agricultural cooperative in Romania, Greece, France or Spain that needs to understand the impact that digital transformation can have on farming, to the local administrations needing to better protect the information of their citizens as increasing numbers of services digitize.
Each scenario requires skills-focused learning pathways so that learners can quickly and easily acquire the knowledge they need in a simplified format.
A responsibility to the future
Today, we are at a critical turning of the tide. I look forward to being able to touch down in any European city in 10 years and see the impact of the talent that we’ve nurtured and empowered. Talent that includes more women, minorities, people with disabilities, adult reskillers, school leavers… the list goes on.
At Cisco, we feel we have a responsibility to make the digital transformation an inclusive one. And I’m incredibly excited to see how our incredible ecosystem of over 11,800 educational institutions and more than 29,000 instructors will strive to deliver on our goal of upskilling 25 million people in the next 10 years.
Cisco stands ready to support Europe in its objectives to bring digital skills to more citizens to maximize the opportunity that technology offers, by developing the next generation of talent who will push the capabilities of technology even further and to give people the skills to engage with technology more securely. Because when people are empowered to craft a more inclusive digital transformation journey, it becomes synonymous with a more prosperous society.