The ICT sector is undoubtedly a quickly growing one, with technology developments overflowing the industry, providing more and more opportunities and significantly widening the job market. That is the reason why ICTs are considered as “development enablers” and are increasingly promoted as a key solution for the empowerment of historically disadvantaged groups, such as women and NEETs. However, women are represented very poorly in the ICT sector. Only 1,38% of employed women are ICT specialists compared to 5,66% of employed men. That means that only one in 5 ICT specialists is, in fact, female.
Experience has shown that the introduction and effective application of any new technology must recognize that technologies are not gender neutral, neither in design nor in implementation and therefore, ICT projects must be designed to function within the cultural and social structure without inadvertently reinforcing existing gender divides. The lack of diversity in the industry is a path to a social and economic loss. One example could be theneed for diversity in the development of artificial intelligence (AI). “Technology solutions, especially AI, need to be developed in unbiased and inclusive ways to ensure that they reflect society at large. More diverse and demographically representative participation of programmers, AI experts and designers, willhelp realize this goal” emphasizes DIGITALEUROPE’s Call to Action for a Stronger Digital Europe towards 2025. Moreover, the data that AI uses for performance and self-learning needs to be representative, which – again –requires greater diversity; not only diversity based on gender but also race, age, socio-economical background and geographical location.
Diversity in the ICT sector is crucial not only from the technology-development point of view but also from the perspective of the ever-changing labour market. When it comes to employment, many people express that they are fearful of the future. It comes from the fact that with the development of digital technology, some of the jobs that we know today will ultimately become obsolete, and many assume that technological solutions will take over their professions. While that may happen, with technological growth, entirely new jobs will be created too. We are just unable to define them yet.
It is impossible to predict the jobs that will be available on the market in 5-10 years, let alone in 30. What we can do, however, is to forecast what kind of skills they will require. There is no doubt that they will be digital, but how can we define them further? A Belgian trade association, Agoria, leads by example with their in-depth study of the Belgian labour market until 2030. In the research, Agoria assessed the following factors: developments for the country, 16 business sectors and 75 job profiles, quantitative and qualitative forecasts, job losses, creation and development, the number of job vacancies and unemployment by region, sector and profile, worker inflows and outflows, the gap between demand and supply. Additionally, the researchers defined digital skills for the future in the context of Belgium and provided recommendations for policymakers.
The Agoria study emphasises the urgency of retraining and upskilling, among other solutions for a sustainable labour market in Belgium. This research, while very detailed, is, however, region-specific. There is a need for a more comprehensive study conducted on a much greater scale. Thus, in the context of Europe, forecasting the digital skills needed for future jobs could and perhaps should be the competence of the European institutions – says DIGITALEUROPE’s Director-General, Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl. “Education is indeed a national competence, but forecasting the skills of tomorrow should be an area the EU takes the ownership of. Employment is now global, not national, and policymakers at the EU level must act to innovate pan-European educational curricula and enhance digital skills training”, she claims.
Making skill trends forecasting a European competence could be an excellent way to provide much-needed information on the shape of the future job market. Additionally, the EU possesses both the outreach to gather the data and the authority to push for more forward-looking formal curricula in national education. This, however, can be a lengthy process. In the meantime, investing in the digital capacity building should be a shared responsibility of institutions, businesses, not-for-profit organizations and other stakeholders. Alternative methods of reskilling and upskilling such as training, workers’ mobility programmes and improved communication on STEM education opportunities can be used to assure competitiveness on the global labour market and improve job employment opportunities for the most vulnerable groups.
This report intends to summarise good practices and initiatives regarding improving the employment of women and NEETs in ICT sector jobs, in partner countries focusing on training efforts and awareness-raising regarding digital skills and jobs. The desk research aiming to collect the necessary information was supplemented with focus groups and interviews with women representatives in all piloting countries to add to the provision of innovative employment approaches in W4IT project. Key lessons learnt provided concrete pointers for project intervention, which were assessed through the focus groups and interviews to validate their possible contribution to different national settings.