The European Commission announced last week a new skills agenda for Europe to address the need to improve the digital competency of the EU Workforce. Disappointingly, the European statistics agency, Eurostat, reports that Ireland ranks 9th out of 28 EU countries for the percentage of the population with "low or no digital skills". Almost 50% of the Irish workforce do not have the digital competencies needed for most jobs. While the percentage is unchanged from a 2012 assessment, our ranking has worsened by two places.
In the UK, the provision of ECDL in schools contributes to official school league tables. The UK government has realised that teaching fundamental digital skills (those needed for 95% of jobs) is essential for future proofing the workforce. This includes basic computer use, office applications, programming, web design and other vital skills.
The Irish Computer Society has contributed to Minister Richard Bruton's recent consultation in which we recommend that all students study a broad ICT curriculum leading to an international certification. If we are to compete in Europe then we need students and workers with the skills that are essential for work and study.
Although our placing is unfortunate, one positive to emerge is the exposure of the fallacy of the digital native. If the younger generations, or millennials, were inherently strong ICT users, then the percentage of citizens with low or no digital skills would not be static. As Mary Cleary, Deputy CEO, ICS Foundation, has pointed out, productive use of ICT has to be taught - we don't pick it up from Snapchat and Facebook.
Back in February, Mary Cleary, who is also a teacher, critically questioned the idea of the digital native and how such perceptions could affect teenagers and young adults when choosing a university course or a career path. Daily use of the internet, social media, WhatsApp, Reddit, YouTube and other apps does not make us "natives" of the digital world. On the one hand, the spectrum of digital skills you are expected to have is expanding. This includes things such as office applications, coding skills and experience using CMS tools, to name a few examples. If these skills are picked up natively, it will not be at the level that a certification or formal tuition can provide.
On the other hand, being a "native" does not mean that upskilling isn't an important - and now essential - part of your personal development. Early exposure to smart devices might give you an advantage when learning more advanced digital skills, but being familiar with the toolkit does not mean you know all of the tools.
Although Ireland is falling behind, it is working hard towards a long-term solution. At an EU level, it intends to align its training solutions with the Council of the European Union. For us (the Irish Computer Society), we represent the interests of ICT professionals and students at the level of the profession and the industry, a distinction often misunderstood. Whether you're managing IT systems in a SME like a sandwich bar or a multinational computing company like Intel, we will support you.
As the national certifying body of ECDL, students, young graduates and IT professionals can benefit from comprehensive training on the fundamental skills of computing, security, design and much more. This equips the future workforce with the digital skills they need to get ahead in their careers. In addition, we have developed training supported by our associated bodies (BAAI, ADPO, HISI, Iasa, itSMF) including the NCI QQI Level 8 Business Analysts Certificate, our Advanced Data Protection Training, TOGAF, Scrum, Agile Software Development, DevOps and much more. We are always trying to develop new training solutions in line with current industry standards, while also keeping our audience well engaged.
We have also implemented a Continuous Professional Development (CPD) scheme, the first of its kind in the world, to try and keep Ireland Inc at the top of the global IT workforce. It uses a points-based system allowing participants to measure their performance against their peers and track, record and share their experiences online. Once the skills are in place, mapping them using a well-defined career path can be highly beneficial to the professional, the organisation and Ireland as a whole.
Ultimately, our aim is to encourage young people and professionals alike to recognise the importance of formal training in digital skills. Although you might pick up some skills on your own, certifying your skills makes it easier to showcase your skill tree for potential employers. The future is digital, and Ireland needs to learn to embrace it.