“International best practices have indicated that multi-sectoral partnerships are key in achieving synergy for the sustainable development of the right digital skills,” explains eSkills Malta Foundation Chief Administrator Carmel Cachia.
The eSkills Malta Foundation, he says, endeavors to reflect this paradigm of inclusive synergy, encapsulating a national coalition made up of various representatives from Government, industry and education, with the common aim of increasing basic and advanced digital skills and the further development of the IT profession.
To achieve this, the team at eSkills Malta sets out several strategic goals to achieve in the short and long term, and as a result, the foundation has seen an impressive increase in its European visibility. “The foundation is nowadays regarded amongst the most active country national coalitions, and indeed in Europe we represent an organisational best practice in digital skills. We are not unique, but we are one to look up to.”
Reflecting on eSkills’ many landmarks, the Chief Administrator highlights the foundation’s contribution to Malta’s ranking within the Digital Society and Economy Index (DESI). “Malta currently ranks fifth amongst all the European Union member countries,” he says, going on to mention other achievements, including the fact that the foundation was among the first, if not the first, to launch a specific National eSkills Strategy in 2019.
Earlier on, in December 2016, ahead of the Malta incoming EU Presidency, eSkills Malta Foundation presented the EU Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition charter to then EU Commissioner Gunther Oettinger, and deputy Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in a conference held in Brussels. Earlier still, in 2014, the foundation became the National Ambassador of EU Codeweek, and since then, Malta has ranked high on the number of EU Codeweek events held per capita, including ranking first for a consecutive number of years.
“We also publish several Intelligence reports and guidelines following various studies we carry out. Some of these include the ICT Skills Demand and Supply Monitor study, Guidelines to Increase and Retain women in ICT, Analysis of the Gender Gap in the Digital Sector in Malta, and lately a study on the National Recognition of ICT professionals,” he continues, highlighting one last landmark of note: the IT Professionalism conference held in Malta in 2019.
Directing the discussion to Carmel himself, who enjoys a long-established career in the ICT sector – where he was also involved in setting up and leading different Malta branches for ICT professional societies including the British Computer Society (BCS) – his involvement with the foundation began in 2016.
“In my long career, for some time, I had been feeling that Malta needs to have more focus on ICT competence and professionalism. I had a burning desire to do something about it,” he explains, noting that he had been doing this voluntarily through the BCS Malta section.
Still, he confides, despite being the first choice to lead the foundation following a recruitment process, Carmel was not sure whether the role would be challenging enough. “I was used to the high adrenaline needed for top roles in the ICT industry, foreseeing and solving business, technical and management challenges, setting strategies and mitigating risks. However, I must say that the role presented me with a tough challenge,” he smiles.
“We all know the exponential growth of the digital economy in Malta, with skills gaps that exist and the lack of numbers when it comes to ICT resources. I cannot say that I solved these problems, but I would like to think that as a foundation we had a very positive impact and valid contribution on these issues. And I expect that the future will be as challenging.”
One of the important mandates of the eSkills Malta Foundation is the further development of ICT professionals in Malta. Describing the ICT profession as young when compared to traditional ones like engineering, law, architecture, accounting and medicine, which enjoy recognition from the state, the Chief Administrator affirms that this is not so for ICT, highlighting findings from various eSkills studies that have shown a strong desire amongst ICT practitioners and professionals for national recognition.
To this end, the foundation initiated the a study in November 2021 about the National Recognition of ICT Professionals in Malta, which will be finalised by February/March of this year. “The study will come up with options following a thorough dialogue with stakeholders, with the foundation itself serving as a fulcrum on this issue. “Many European countries are in the same status on this. What is certain is that Malta must have a local ICT Professional Society, and at the moment this is somewhat absent. This is very important and crucial to our profession.”
Another exciting project that will reach fruition soon is a Malta Digital Skills Platform code-named LISP. Finding its roots in 2020, Carmel explains that the national coalitions of the Member States in the EU put forward a proposition to the European Commission, with the aim to accelerate digital upskilling in Europe.
“It would be highly beneficial that each country will have a national Digital Skills online platform. This will serve as a single point of access for digital skills and jobs activities at local and European level, exchange good practices, skills intelligence, training resources and funding opportunities within and across countries,” he explains, adding that most countries will have a local digital platform exposing all this information and will integrate with a European Commission core platform.
“The Foundation has already initiated the process and the project, which is co-funded by the EU, should start in March 2022,” Carmel says, noting that through it, the foundation will address digital skills shortages, cooperate and collaborate beyond national level, promote, replicate and scale-up projects and initiatives, build new relations and facilitate interactions with a wide target beyond citizens and students, including enterprises, SMEs, universities, education providers, digital innovation hubs, cybersecurity centres and more.
Meanwhile, with the end of 2021 drawing the period of the Malta National eSkills Strategy 2019 -2021 to a close, the foundation is also at the precipice of its incoming 2022-2024 Strategy. Taking stock of the progress made in relation to the previous strategy, the Chief Administrator reveals, “we are pleased with the outcomes of the outgoing strategy and our perception is that it has had a national positive influence. We have made progress, but we need to do more, Europe needs to do more. Our strategy depends on many stakeholders and not just the foundation, and this makes it harder to implement.”
Looking ahead, Carmel says, “although the new strategy will take in consideration the developments in information technology, cybersecurity, and the effect of the carbon footprint, the pillars will possibly remain the acquisition of digital skills in education, citizens, labour force and ICT professionals. The change will be more in finding better ways to implement the strategy, especially in the areas of SME upskilling and citizens.”
“We have taken note of the collective goals set out by the European Commission through the path of the Digital Decade 2030,” he continues, noting that the goals effect the four cardinal points of digital skills, infrastructure, transformation of businesses, and public services. “In eSkills’ area, the European goals include the increase to 80 per cent of citizens having at least basic digital skills and the increase to 20 million ICT specialists, including gender convergence. But this will have a profound effect on the other pillars. It is crucial that Europe competes successfully with other continents, and this depends on further digital transformation.”
As for his other plans for eSkills Malta Foundation in 2022, Carmel is focused on continuing with what he calls ‘star’ projects, which include the Digital Bootcamp, Teachers Careers Advisors training, Student Industry visits and careers advice, promotion and awareness of digital skills, EU Codeweek, Industry Certifications and the close collaboration with the various stakeholders coming from education, SMEs, ICT sector and the social partners.
Meanwhile, fresh initiatives include the National eSkills Strategy 2022-2024, the kick-off of the Digital Skills and Jobs Platform, and the industry certification initiative, and, he assures, there will be much more to come.
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