Digital Skills for Employability and Social Inclusion

Olivier HeidmannThessaly (GR), November 2016 - Olivier Heidmann is lead developer and designer in serious-games projects, responsible for designing and creating virtual experiment demonstrators at the Institute for Research and Technology Thessaly (IRETETH), Greece. He has a Master’s Degree in Parallel Computing from the Louis Pasteur University in Strasbourg, France and has taught computer science, mathematics, and management for seven years to students ranging from fourteen years of age to adults. Since 2004, he has participated in more than a dozen EC-funded projects, using ICT and web-based solutions to enhance teaching and learning methodologies and tools. At OEB 2016 he will speak about "Serious Games for Developing Digital Skills for Emplyment" in the session "Digital Skills for Unemployed Youth" on Thursday, 1 December 2016 from 12:00 to 13:15.

Olivier Heidmann: In the framework of OEB 2016, I'm going to present the work we have done on the EMPLOY project, entitled "Digital skills for employability and social inclusion". It's a European project in the Erasmus+ program, with an international consortium of French, Turkish, Estonian, Italian, and Greek organizations.

In my rather long introduction, I'll try to address your questions and briefly present the EMPLOY project at the same time. Then, I’ll give some short, direct answers to what you’ve asked.

To start, according to some data (see Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs), there is going to be a shortage in the coming decade of about 900,000 people to do ICT jobs. The European Commission has acted accordingly and has started a number of initiatives on the subject and refocused some of their programs, making digital skills a core basic competency.

The other side of this medal is that a huge loss of jobs with low skills is also expected, as high as sixteen million positions in the coming decade. This trend in the job market may be a contributing factor to rising unemployment rates and could threaten social cohesion. Low- skilled individuals, who at present may be attracted by jobs that have low entry-level requirements, may face increasing challenges in finding jobs, as the demand for highly skilled professionals is expected to rise. 

There is an increasing trend in unemployment which was 8.5% in 2001 and has been aggravated during the crisis in the years following 2008. Youth unemployment rates are significantly higher, exceeding 50% and even reaching 60% in southern Europe. The retraining or refocusing of unemployed individuals in relation to digital skills may contribute to closing the gap between competence availability and demand, reducing unemployment, and facilitating sustainable economic growth. 

Individuals who are at risk of exclusion, including people who are not employed and/or not in education or training (NEETs), have dropped out of school early, are of low socio-economic status, are migrants, constitute minorities, and are others who are at increased risk of facing employment challenges as a result of ineffective or misaligned skill sets and inadequate digital competences. This is a consequence of vicious cycles in which any of the above factors or combinations of two or more drive individuals at risk of exclusion, i.e. people at the fringes of social networks who are out of educational channels and are pursuing jobs with low skill requirements with the objective of covering their day-to-day needs. The missed training opportunities further exaggerate the mismatch between these individuals’ available skills and the abilities demanded by the market, which results in further reduction of their possibilities of becoming socially included, active citizens pursuing broad options for personal and professional fulfillment.
Enhanced digital skill sets, driven by market demands, will increase the employability of this group for their own benefit by enhancing their ability to follow dreams; for the benefit of their communities through enhanced social cohesion; and for businesses through their greater capacity to support economic activity in an evolving, knowledge-driven economy.

Educating these people will further strengthen the competitiveness of Europe in the global economic environment through a highly trained work force that can support innovation-related economic activities.

The EMPLOY project aims at building the digital skills among young learners at risk of exclusion through the strategic use of ICT, and specifically game-based learning, which facilitates exposure to work-driven activities that require digital competencies, problem-solving capacity, and analytical thinking. The advantages of the proposed active learning, game-based approach are linked to increased knowledge retention, ability to transfer knowledge to the real world, and learning games that drive inspiration from the needs of the world of work, thus broadening professional options through awareness of market needs and enhancement of skill sets.

EMPLOY attempts to address the issue of digital-skill building among individuals who are at risk of social exclusion early in life, in primary and lower secondary school, through activities that are linked to real-world needs. By addressing digital-skill development among youngsters aged 10 to 15, the project seeks to prevent the issue of less-than-adequate digital skills among individuals at risk of social exclusion, which is often a result of reduced access to learning opportunities and services, from ever arising. Hence, it will promote equity and inclusion in education. The project promotes the broadening of career options for individuals at risk of exclusion by raising awareness of the professional profiles that will be in demand in the coming years and by building the skills that are necessary for entering the knowledge economy.

I hope this gives you a general idea. Here, now, are some much shorter, more direct answers to your questions.

Which labor-market skills are you trying to impart using serious games?

Olivier Heidmann: The skills targeted are digital skills, but especially skills needed in a day-to-day job that only requires a low level of IT-related qualifications.

At which target groups are these measures aimed, and how are they delivered?

Olivier Heidmann: Here I’ll just repeat what I said before: The target group for this project is individuals who are at risk of exclusion, including people who are not employed and/or not in education or training (NEETs). They dropped out of school early, are usually of low socio-economic status, are migrants or members of minorities. The common factor is that they are at increased risk of facing employment challenges as a result of ineffective or misaligned skill sets and inadequate digital competences.

Has there been much demand from unemployed people?

Olivier Heidmann: Given the high unemployment rate and the bleaks prospect on the job market for people with low qualifications, the demand for digital skill knowledge is and will remain high.

Do potential employers recognize these training instruments as qualifications?

Olivier Heidmann: EMPLOY is used in the context of a classroom within the school system, in order to try to minimize in an upstream fashion the emergence of NEETs.  In that context, EMPLOY is one of the tools available to teachers and can be used in conjunction with standard qualification tools used in the schools. And by the way, the serious-game authored by the project consortium is being delivered through secondary schools.