Cyprus : The state of play
According to the results of the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) for the year 2021, Cyprus ranks 23 inthe EU as regards the human capital parameter. Basic digital skills of Cypriots remain below the EU average of 56 %, with only 45 % of people aged 16 to 74 having at least basic digital skills. 25 % of the population have digital skills beyond basic skills and 46 % have basic software skills, compared to 31 % and 58 % in the EU respectively. Results strongly illustrating the need to invest in the acquisition of digital skills for the whole general population of the country.
As regards the share of ICT specialists in all workers aged 15-74 and the overall share of ICT graduates, this is only 3.1 % and 2.9 % respectively, with women making up only 18 % of the ICT workforce. This poor performance of Cyprus, even though there has been a marginal improvement in recent years, is in contrast to the growing demand for ICT specialists in the local market, both to meet the needs of existing businesses and foreign enterprises that are considering establishing and operating in Cyprus.
At the same time, the results highlight the importance of the education sector, as it is the basis on which we build the future, with our human capital equipped. The crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to narrowing the digital divide both in society and in the labour market, has put the spotlight on the need to nurture digital skills. As regards the education system, it highlighted the need to institutionalise teaching processes beyond face-to-face teaching (such as distance and hybrid teaching), to design actions to develop students’ digital skills horizontally, and to capitalise on the added value of digital media and tools in teaching and learning.
The State, led by the Ministry of Education, Sport and Youth (MOEC), and in cooperation with the Deputy Ministry of Education, Health and Social Security (YPAN), is engaged in the digital transformation of education, which includes in addition to policy issues and upgrading the facilities and equipment of schools, enriching the detailed programme with targeted activities and training teachers to integrate modern digital media into teaching.
It aims to harness digital means and tools to develop and nurture students’ digital skills across all disciplines and to harness the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) cross-cutting approach to develop 21stcentury skills such as problem solving, critical and creative thinking, which, according to estimates by international organisations, are key to professional success.
An important tool in teacher training is the Digital Competence Framework for Educators (DigCompEdu), which provides a general reference framework to support the development of specific digital competences for teachers in Europe and is addressed to teachers at all levels of education, from early childhood to tertiary level and adult education, including general and vocational education and training, specific education and non-formal learning frameworks.
The formulation of the Action Plan
In order for Cyprus to respond to the above needs, to make a substantial contribution to achieving the objectives set at European level and to ensure the success of the digital transition at national level, immediate, effective and coordinated action at all levels is necessary. Cyprus is now invited to create a framework that is more conducive to innovation, growth and new digital jobs and to ensure that the knowledge, skills, competences and imagination of its human resources, including ICT professionals, meet the highest global standards as well as to be continuously updated through an effective lifelong training process. We are advancing with bold and vertical interference in policies, structures and culture, to equip all, citizens, ICT professionals and businesses, with the right resources to cope with change preparedness and effectiveness.
To this end, the Deputy Ministry of Research, Innovation and Digital Policy, as the body responsible for designing and implementing a holistic digital transformation programme, has drawn up – in cooperation with bodies in the public, wider public and private sectors, such as the Ministry of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport and Youth, the Cypriot Academy of Public Administration, the Human Resources Development Authority, the Digital Security Authority, business associations, universities and businesses – a comprehensive and comprehensive action plan to enhance digital skills, which is developed in three (3) main axes: upgrading the digital skills of the general population, enhancing the skills of the public and private workforce, with particular reference to ICT specialists, and developing expanded digital competence within the education system.
The development of the Action Plan took into account, in addition to Cyprus’s Digital Strategy and Europe’s Digital Compass, the European Digital Skills Framework for Citizens (DigComp), which lists five key areas of competence, which should be developed through educational and vocational training programmes in order to ensure the development of the necessary skills:
- Use of information and data
- Communication and cooperation
- Creating digital content
- Solve problems
The project entitled ‘e-skills Action Plan – Implementation of specific actions’ has been included in the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, ‘Cyprus a tomorrow’, which includes actions in excess of EUR 30 million to achieve the objectives set out in Policy Axis 5.1 of the Plan.
The achievement of the objectives of this Action Plan is interlinked with the progress made in implementing the remaining actions of the Digital Strategy of Cyprus for the years 2020-2025, which provides, inter alia, for the promotion of e-government and the widespread use of electronic identities, as well as for ensuring universal access to high-speed technology infrastructure and connectivity.
At the same time, all proposed interventions/reforms are expected to contribute to substantially strengthening the country’s competitiveness as an investment destination and establishing Cyprus as a regional hub for technology and innovation, but also to improving Cyprus’s ranking in European and global indicators, such as the DESI, and comparative reports such as the IMD World Digital Competitiveness Report and the Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum, which are benchmarks for investors worldwide, as well as independent and reliable assessments of the country’s performance and the effectiveness of our efforts.
National Alliance for Digital Skills and Employment
Successful implementation of the objectives of the Action Plan requires effective coordination and building a relationship of trust and cooperation between all stakeholders in order to ensure maximum impact and avoid duplication of efforts and initiatives. In order to facilitate and strengthen coordination between all the bodies involved, the Deputy Ministry, having assumed the relevant responsibility, has launched the activation of the National Alliance for Digital Skills and Employment, which is under the supervision of the Digital Championship, which is awarded to the Director-General of the Deputy Ministry by decision No 89.557 of the Council of Ministers. 10/06/2020.
The National Alliance for Digital Skills and Employment is a coalition of organisations from the public and private sectors, academia, research centres, the research and innovation ecosystem and civil society to develop actions that promote digital literacy in all social structures.
The National Alliance embraces policies and cooperates with the European Commission’s Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition, promoting European flagship initiatives at national level. It is worth noting that similar initiatives have been developed by 23 EU Member States.
It should be noted that the National Alliance was first set up in April 2015 and signed between the bodies and the Digital Champion of Cooperation, while the new agreement between the members is planned to be signed immediately, which requires collective action on education and training initiatives and raising awareness among society of the importance of the project.
THE ACTION PLAN
The vision of the Action Plan is to create a digitally mature society across the whole spectrum of business and social fabric that can respond and participate actively in the digital economy and society emerging as part of Cyprus’ holistic Digital Strategy 2021-2025.
Main purpose and sub-objectives
The main purpose of the Digital Skills Action Plan is to develop and continuously upgrade digital skills in all population groups and at all levels. Our objective is to ensure that all citizens have all the guarantees of active and equal participation in digital education, the labour market, public governance and society at large, contributing, through their individual development, to accelerating the digital and green transitions.
The specific objectives of the Action Plan are as follows:
- Improving society’s response to the digital challenge and the active participation of all citizens without exception in the digital society and economy
- Bridging the gap between supply and demand in the labour market, both in terms of the skills of the future and the availability of ICT specialists to meet the growing and more specialised needs of businesses in today’s highly competitive environment
- Redesigning the education system in order to develop the digital skills of the future from pre-primary education, to promote the technological professional direction, and to encourage and promote a culture of creativity and innovation among young people
- Promoting women’s participation in the ICT sector
- Raising society’s awareness of the importance of digital skills but also of lifelong learning
- The constructive interconnection and close cooperation of all actors involved and the establishment of a systematic and effective coordination and feedback mechanism.
- Society – Digital skills for all:
Refers to actions to upgrade the digital skills of the general population, including vulnerable groups and remote geographical areas.
In particular, it provides for the design of training programmes, in two strands:
- At least basic digital skills: to equip every citizen with the necessary digital competence to enable them to interact, communicate and trade successfully, responsibly and safely, in the new digital environment.
- Lifelong learning: to empower citizens to effectively address the challenges of the emerging knowledge society, moving freely between learning contexts, occupations, regions and countries.
Actions of a broad nature are implemented, inter alia, by the Productivity Centre (KEPA) of the Ministry of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport and Youth, universities.
The above framework includes, by way of example, the actions to be taken by the KEPA, in cooperation with the Deputy Ministry of Health and Development, concerning the organisation and conduct of free training programmes for the general population, but also for specific professional groups in the private and public sector, unemployed persons and pensioners. The thematic sections of the programmes, which are offered at different levels, mainly concern the following: Acquisition of basic digital skills (for digital illiteracy), e-Government Workshops, BEREC Office Applications (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Access), Internet and Outlook, Internet and Cybersecurity, Digital (Marketing, Tools for distance learning and work, web design and learning of specialised software such as Powersoft Accounting.
It concerns the upskilling of workers, both in the public and private sectors (from basic to advanced level), including the unemployed, so that they are active, compatible and modern job-seekers in today’s and in the future labour market.
In particular, it is envisaged to design programmes that respond to the needs of the market and cover all levels of training.
In the private sector, multiple initiatives are being implemented in vocational education and training, continuously improving its relevance to the needs of the labour market, by linking the various actors involved, such as public authorities, education providers, educational institutions, business organisations, private companies, etc. This includes the actions of the Ministry of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance, through the Human Resources Development Authority (HRDA) and the Productivity Centre (CEFR), which have included important actions in the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRP) (see Annex I).
Through the actions of the AnAD, the aim is to train 20210 people to acquire new and/or upgrade existing digital skills of Cypriot human resources (private and public sector employees, self-employed and unemployed), through their participation in training programmes to be implemented by Vocational Training Centres (Vocational Training Centres). In addition, training programmes for employed and unemployed people to acquire knowledge and skills related to the green economy and the blue economy are referred to as similar to digital skills, which aims to train 3000 people and 500 people respectively, as well as training programmes for the unemployed to acquire entrepreneurial knowledge and skills, for which the participation of 1935 people is sought.
Irrespective of the actions included in the RRP, the AnAD also implements existing actions through which training programmes for the acquisition of digital knowledge and skills to support new technologies are promoted, through the approval and grant of training programmes that meet the needs of an enterprise (Single Operational Programmes) or several operations (Multi-Operational Programmes). The programmes are organised by certified KEKs and enterprises. The actions of the Human Rights Council referred to above can also be used by ICT professionals/specialists.
In addition, specific actions on specific topics such as the Digital Finance Action, which will be designed in cooperation with the Ad-Hoc Commission, could potentially be considered and integrated into the design.
As regards the public sector, the Deputy Ministry, in cooperation with the Cyprus Academy of Public Administration and other organisations such as the Digital Security Authority, has designed a holistic programme for basic digital skills covering areas such as Microsoft Office, Cybersecurity, Social Media, teleworking and remote education tools and e-cooperation tools, but also includes initiatives concerning leaders/managers to ensure commitment and collegiality to implement the digital transformation at all levels.
In particular, under the co-funded project ‘Learning Support for the Implementation of Administrative Change in Public Administration’ of the Cyprus Academy of Public Administration, around 13600 individual learning needs have been collected, broken down into 19 thematic units, including, inter alia, the areas referred to above. As regards specialised issues that require specific design, these will be tracked in cooperation with different bodies.
- Professionals – ICT specialists:
He refers to reskilling-upskilling initiatives for ICT specialists, both in the public and private sectors, focusing on the possibility of certification in specialised subjects, which is an important tool for professional development.
In the private sector, ICT professionals and unemployed persons with a relevant degree can benefit from programmes of the AnAD, the KEPA, the Ministry of Education and other public and private organisations such as Universities, the Cyprus Association of Informatics.
In the public sector, targeted programmes in areas of interest relating to the optimal, more direct and more effective implementation of the digital transformation are planned – by the State Secretary and in cooperation with the CADD, but also in the context of international partnerships such as the UK Government Digital Service (GDS) – which mainly concern the Department of Informatics Services of the Deputy Department. In addition to the digital themes, such as the development of digital services, the development of IT systems and applications, and cloud computing, emphasis is placed on cross-sectoral skills that are crucial for the IT sector, such as project management, change management, etc. Training in project management, as part of the Action Plan, is planned to be given to all public officials who have taken the role of coordinator in the implementation of projects included in the national RRP.
It is mentioned in particular that, on the basis of the National Cybersecurity Strategy, which was completed in 2020, the Digital Security Authority, in cooperation with the Deputy Ministry, is planning prominent training courses for capacity building, which is one of the four main pillars of this strategy.
Similarly, in the field of Artificial Intelligence and on the basis of the Implementation Plan of the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy, training aimed at developing and exploiting cutting-edge technologies in both public and business sectors will be promoted.
- Education system:
Refers to actions to strengthen (a) students’ digital skills, based on the 21st century Digital Skills Framework as described by the European Commission, and (b) skills development (such as critical thinking, creativity, problem solving) through the STEM cross-cutting approach.
In this context, relevant reforms in the national RRP include enriching the curricula of primary and secondary education to develop students’ digital skills horizontally, developing educational materials and educating teachers to integrate digital tools into their teaching practice.
Relevant investments in the LPIS include upgrading schools with technological equipment (computers, cameras, microphones, etc.) to provide the means necessary for the development of digital skills during school time. In addition, an investment is foreseen to subsidise the purchase of laptops/tablets by students with a low socio-economic background, so that they can be used in non-school time.
- Communication Strategy
The Action Plan includes the development of a targeted communication strategy aimed at raising awareness, informing and promoting lifelong learning and digital culture by conducting promotional campaigns, sessions, workshops and competitions on ICT-related issues, in order to ensure that society as a whole not only accepts and keeps up with, but seeks and participates actively in the digital transition. This includes initiatives such as Nardia Researcher, Digital Championship, Innovation Awards, Research Awards, MEA TCSR competitions as well as support for relevant private initiatives. Particular reference is made to promoting the participation of girls and women in the ICT sector in order to effectively address the racial divide observed.
- Investment in digital infrastructure
It concerns investments in equipment and connectivity to support the provision of digital learning and wider uptake of digital technologies and tools across society.
This axis is fully in line with the National Broadband Plano of Cyprus for the years 2021-2025, and includes, in addition to actions relating to upgrading connectivity in schools, funding for the purchase of equipment, including at personal level, for students with low income criteria, but also upgrades of ICT infrastructure in governmental and public bodies, as well as premises and organisations such as retirement homes, rehabilitation centres, community centres, etc.
- Digital Citizens’ Academy
The Deputy Ministry is responsible for implementing a dynamic, user-friendly and universally accessible electronic platform, including the following:
- Self-assessment tool to enable citizensto assess their digital skills on the basis of four levels of training: 1. Basic skills, 2. Basic level, 3. Intermediate level, and 4. Advanced level. The questionnaire is based on the European Digital Competence Framework DigComp v2.1, which describes 21 digital skills organised into 5 skill categories. The results of the self-evaluation will lead the citizen to a personalised proposal to attend courses to improve their digital skills, in line with their own preferences and data (career direction, desired level, etc.).
- Directory of available training programmes for digital skills offered by all stakeholders that will be members of the National Alliance.
- ELearning Library
The Digital Academy will enable citizens to upgrade their digital skills, with a free choice of courses as part of either a general level of knowledge (from elementary to advanced level) or in the context of their needs as ICT professionals.
An objective such as citizens can freely, free of charge and without complicated procedures, learn about the availability of the relevant educational programmes and follow the courses that suit everyone’s needs, interests and level of knowledge and skills. The Digital Academy is expected to play a key role in promoting the wider participation of citizens in the actions provided for in the Action Plan.
Implementation and Governance Mechanism
For the purposes of optimal coordination and cooperation, monitoring of implementation and management of data requiring amendment and/or strengthening of the Action Plan, it is proposed to set up a Governance Group consisting of the following bodies, chaired by the Director-General of the Deputy Ministry of Research, Innovation and Digital Policy:
- Deputy Ministry Research, Innovation, & Digital Policy
- Ministry of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance
- Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport and Youth
- Cyprus Academy of Public Administration
- Human Resources Development Authority
- CITEA (Cyprus Association of Computer Enterprises)
- CCS (Cyprus Informatics Association)
The implementation of the Action Plan will be monitored on the basis of the targets set in the national RRP (see Annex I), with a deadline for implementation in 2026, and in accordance with the assessment of Cyprus’ various performance parameters, which fall under the European DESI indicator.
It should be noted that this Action Plan is a dynamic document with multiple actions, which will be assessed and amended appropriately and regularly in order to keep up with constantly changing needs and circumstances at national, European and international level.