ASFOR – in cooperation with ECOLE – Enti COnfindustriali Lombardi per l’Education – is taking part in the Erasmus+ project for Strategic Partnerships (KA2) called C-DISK (Certify DIgital Soft sKills).

The project relates to the field of digital transformation, a process characterised by three distinctive elements:

  1. Technological: use of new digital technologies, such as social media, mobile devices, tools for data analysis;
  2. Strategic-Organisational: change of organisational processes and business models;
  3. Economic-Social: impact on all aspects of human life, in particular on the process of vocational education and training (initial and continuing) as well as on entry and retention in the labour market.

C-DISK’s partners [1] are institutions and organisations that integrate the cultural perspectives and academic, technical and professional competences useful to represent in a complete and articulate way the richness and complexity of the project theme, to analyse the possible organisational and social repercussions and to formulate a proactive interpretation of it.

The ongoing transformation, due to the progressive penetration of digital technologies in all markets and areas of human activity (Reis et al. 2018; Ross et al., 2016), is having a major impact on business models, organisational processes and the personal and professional skills needed to enter and progress in the labour market. Organisations and workers are called upon to keep up with the new ‘digital world’ and avoid the risk of losing competitive positions and being excluded from the labour market. Coping successfully with the digital transformation requires companies and workers to develop a wide range of digital and interpersonal knowledge, skills and attitudes (Carcary, Doherty, Conway, 2016). Alongside them, education, higher education and continuing training systems can play a crucial role in effectively promoting the massive retraining (reskilling and upskilling) needed.

It is no coincidence that the criticality of a significant skill shortage at all levels, both in education and in the corporate sector, has been pointed out by many quarters: the lack of adequate staff and skills in the digital sphere risks representing one of the greatest obstacles not only to the development of the digital strategy, but more generally to overall economic growth in the near future.

A study a few years ago had already pointed out that the skills gap is actually greater for ‘soft digital skills’ (collaboration, openness to change, etc.) than for ‘hard digital skills’ (cyber-security, analytics, etc.): 59% vs. 51% (Capgemini-Linkedin, 2017). More recently, new research (Feijao et al., 2021) [2] analysing the issue of the digital skills gap at a global level underlined both the centrality of soft skills in enabling workers to adapt to new digital contexts and the growing awareness of their relevance by organisations.

These data, combined with a review of the most qualified literature on the subject of defining the concept of digital competence (Calvani et al., 2010; Ferrari, 2012; Larraz, 2013; Ilomaki et. al., 2014; Antonakis et al., 2016), clearly highlight the fact that the digital transformation is imposing a paradigm shift not only in terms of knowledge and skills in the strictly technological sphere, but also and above all from a cultural and attitudinal point of view. Not only digital literacy on new technologies, but also the development of soft skills and e-leadership, i.e. the ability to interpret reality from a digital perspective, to lead others in digital transformation, and to manage groups and relationships with the mediation of new technologies. The events of the last two years, in which the health emergency has accelerated the use of digital technologies in ‘forced’ distance learning and work, make it even more urgent to take action to overcome the aforementioned gaps.

These skills are even more important and critical in light of the pervasiveness of Artificial Intelligence technologies in both production and educational contexts. Knowing how to interact effectively with these new technologies requires a significant strengthening of critical thinking, the ability to reason about processes in a participatory logic and the ability to manage uncertainty.

In the light of these considerations, the C-DISK project has the following objectives

  • to support the growth of the digital competence level, both technological knowledge and soft skills/e-leadership, of students and workers involved in continuous training processes
  • to contribute to the reduction of the mismatch between demand and supply (skill shortage) of suitable skills on the labour market in the light of the digital transformation of workplaces; 
  • to encourage formal recognition of the acquisition of digital skills, both hard and soft, to support work transition/mobility processes (school-to-work, intersectoral, between territorial areas, between countries);
  • to increase the capacity of initial and continuing vocational training institutions to design and deliver training paths for the development of digital skills for students and workers.

Through the construction of a single and integrated model of competences for the digital age linked to the European framework DigComp 2.1 – ranging from technological to interpersonal and e-leadership competences – and of the related mechanism for certifying their acquisition, the quality of initial and continuing vocational training systems is promoted. The inspiring principles are those of transparency, formal certification and recognisability of competences for their expendability on the European labour market. With this in mind, the project also intends to proceed with an experimentation of the micro-credential system, which could increase the degree of flexibility of the training provision systems and further foster the construction of tailor-made, formally certified pathways. When designing the training pathways, they will be structured in autonomous but at the same time easily integrated “learning units”. For each unit there will be a specific action for the certification of acquired competences.

In particular, there are two main target beneficiaries of the project: students engaged in their educational pathway (initial VET) and workers involved in professional updating and retraining processes (continuing training). The desirable positive impact on both should determine in the medium term the entry into the labour market of competent young resources – both in technological and interpersonal terms – and thus in line with the needs of the productive world; in parallel, the reskilling action dedicated to those who are already working, thus of higher seniority, should favour their permanence in the labour market with clear advantages in economic and social protection terms.

With this project, led by ECOLE, ASFOR intends not only to contribute by bringing the Italian perspective into an international context, but above all to strengthen the participation and collaboration among its members on relevant topics for post-experience management training, in this case the digital transformation for lifelong learning, which is outlined as an inevitable path in a society attentive both to the needs of the community and to paths of evolution of the productive and professional world. A crucial step in this direction will be the involvement of ASFOR members in surveys and working groups on the implementation model proposed by the C-DISK researchers.

[1] In addition to ECOLE- Enti COnfindustriali Lombardi per l’Education and ASFOR- Associazione Italiana per la Formazione Manageriale, the following are partners in the project: UPI- Zalec People’s University-Slovenia; UTU- University of Turku- Finland; RISEBA- University of Applied Sciences- Latvia; BIC INNOBRIDGE- Business Innovation Center- Bulgaria; IDEC- Training Consultancy Company- Greece.
[2] Feijao C. et al., The global digital skills gap, RAND Europe, 2021

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