Digital skills and development in the Western Balkans – Tirana Times
Through Milena Harito, former minister, MP
The six countries of the Western Balkans, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, together representing a population of less than 20 million people, are the last to be engaged in the process of integration into the European Union. Even if this process has been delayed until now, for many reasons, concerning both the countries of the Western Balkans and the internal processes of the European Union, the integration process remains an important lever for the transformation of these countries. .
In this context, the Regional Cooperation Council located in Sarajevo and co-founded by the European Union has shown prosperity and growth through regional action in South-Eastern Europe, while supporting European and Euro-Atlantic integration. economies of the Western Balkans..
In July 2017, with the support of the European Commission, we agreed between the governments of the six countries of the Western Balkans to introduce digital integration in the multiannual action plan for a regional economic area.
The Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans aims to support the region’s transition to a digital economy and bring the benefits of digital transformation to its citizens, such as faster economic growth, more jobs and better services. .
One of the most tangible results of digital integration for the citizens of the Western Balkans is the agreement on zero roaming charges which started a few years ago and will be completed from 1st July 2021.
However, many challenges remain for the economies of the Western Balkans and one of the most important is competition for skilled people, reinforced by continued immigration of young and skilled people to the European Union.
The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has increased the supply of and demand for digital services and the pace of the digital transformation of our lives. On the other hand, the coming 4th industrial revolution with the combination of 5G, the use of data, IoT and artificial intelligence will transform the job market as well as industries, retail, Services.
The ever increasing need for digital skills in life, society and economy as well as global competition for these skills are the target of the specific report on digital skills in the Western Balkans funded by the RCC. It provides a specific analysis of digital skills in the six Western Balkan countries for citizens, workforce and ICT professionals, based on the relevant framework of the EU approach and instruments.
Lack of digital skills is a global trend in EU Member States as well as in the countries of the Western Balkans. However, there is a clear difference between basic, intermediate and advanced digital skills.
The share of people with basic digital skills appears to be the same in the Western Balkan countries and in the EU: around 40% of the EU population has an insufficient level of basic digital skills.
The EU faces advanced ICT skills shortages which translate into a skills gap of around one million unfilled jobs in the IT sector. But WB6 citizens who have overall digital skills above the basics are almost half of the EU average. The lack of intermediate and advanced digital skills has an impact on the quality of the workforce in general. Even a majority of young people who are often seen as’ digital natives lack the job-relevant digital skills demanded by employers to fill existing vacancies in the Western Balkans.
The ever-changing technology and the tech-rich environment challenge citizens, workforce and ICT professionals to constantly acquire higher digital skills and competences. Digital technologies are impacting economies across all sectors and changing the way economic value is created, the jobs people do, how they do them, and the skills they need for those jobs. In particular, it increases the need for digital skills in the workplace. The trend is of course stronger since the COVID19 pandemic crisis increasing the share of teleworking and remote online activities.
The reports of the international partners for the region provide valuable data on general indicators of development, employment, skills and the information society in each of the WB6 economies. According to the OECD, since 2016, the WB6 economies have taken positive steps towards digital empowerment, but there is still a long way to go. The challenges are also financial, ie the need to pay for training to improve skills and the ability to keep pace with skills acquisition. As such, the right considerations and policies on this issue are of great importance.
Each of the Western Balkan countries needs a national digital skills strategy and action plan, as part of the national digital strategy. National coalitions for digital skills and employment (DSJC) and benchmarks, within the framework of the regional DSJC and the EU DSJC, can enable better coordination between all actors and will help to achieve faster results for the economy. The use of the European Digicomp framework for citizens can serve as a reference framework to support and improve the digital competence of citizens. Accurate data on the digital society should be collected regularly and periodically in the economies of the WB6, which can be used to plan better policies on the information society in general and in particular for digital skills.
At the regional level, a very important step in economies of scale is to analyze and agree on potentials for specialization in the digital economy for the BM6 and existing or potential value chains for economies of scale across the Balkans. Westerners. The basis of digital skills policies and programs is to agree on common standards related to digital skills, with particular attention to the definition, certification and assessment of digital skills. The creation of the Regional Coalition for Digital Skills and Jobs within WB6, reflecting the experience of the EU’s DSJC, would help create these digital value chains.