A Round-table on Upskilling Employees and Entrepreneurs in the Czechia Digital Sustainability Forum

Lifelong learning is key to upskilling employees and entrepreneurs in order to maintain employment and create new jobs in a dynamically evolving global environment. It is important to enable people to adapt to a fast-changing jobs market to ensure they remain employable even in the face of advancing robotization and automation. Competitiveness on the job market is based not only on technical and digital knowledge but also on soft skills. Upskilling thus also comprises the ability to find one’s way around, establish one’s own potential and talents and seek out one’s place in the future jobs market.

On 22 September 2020, Aspen Institute Central Europe in cooperation with the Microsoft Czech Republic organized an expert round-table on upskilling Czech employees and entrepreneurs as part of the Digital Sustainability Forum. Experts from public administration, academia, business and trade unions met online to discuss the current challenges to jobs and economic competitiveness posed by the advancement of modern technology. The ability to keep up with competitors depends on the economy’s ability to maximize the development of human resources, thus improving its innovation potential.

Although digitalization is disrupting the jobs market and will lead to the disappearance of a number of jobs vulnerable to automation, a number of new jobs will also emerge. The ability to use artificial intelligence in practice will be the key to securing economic growth. It is thus essential to improve the quality of human resources in order for employees to be able to work with artificial intelligence and understand the fundamentals of its operations. The general public does not understand artificial intelligence, however, and is concerned about its use. It is therefore important to promote public awareness of what these technologies are capable of and what they can do for us.

Three levels of the necessary prerequisites for further education of employees have been defined:

Systemic Level

Improving qualifications must become a societal priority; there is no platform facilitating communication between employers, the government and the trade unions.

To make the public aware of this issue, the debate needs to move into the public sphere and gain exposure in the media. The need for lifelong learning is often downplayed, despite it being a necessary prerequisite for the future competitiveness of the Czech economy. To increase awareness of the importance of digital education, public servants have to personally have such digital competences.

Trade unions, which have represented employees chiefly in negotiating for higher salaries in recent years, are one of the protagonists which could play an important role in this area. Trade unions have to adopt a new role, however, in mediating lifelong learning and formulating the needs of the employees. They can also facilitate a dialogue between companies and their employees about increasing the availability of relevant education for everyone and motivating employees to seek further education. A pilot program prepared by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs for the next year, which will introduce “individual education accounts”, could be very beneficial.

Company level

There is insufficient dialogue between employers, employees and the public and private sectors. Companies often neglect their responsibility to further educate and train their employees. This situation could be helped by sharing best practices in educating employees and company tools to improve digital skills among the general public.

The current situation in Czechia is not particularly bad. There are a number of initiatives in this area. The problem is that these initiatives are often unconnected and unable to reach the broader public. It is therefore important to create a single platform connecting the supply and demand for courses and provide a space for cooperation and dialogue among the private and public sectors, the government, academia and other institutions. To reach the broad- er public, there will be a need to ensure the availability of learning materials in the Czech language and increase the capacity of courses following the latest trends. The platform’s objective should also be to aid companies, employees, as well as the public administration in identifying the types of skills (and hence the courses) that will be most relevant in the future.

Individual Level

People often lack the motivation, time and money to pursue further education.

In the Czech Republic, increasing one’s qualifications is not at the focus of attention and the participation of employees in long-term education and training is low. Both employees and the unemployed are often not aware of the importance of improving their digital skills. People with low qualifications, who are at the highest risk of job loss due to automation, also need digital competences. They do not have to become IT professionals, but they should improve their current digital competences.

Improving qualifications must become a societal priority; there is no platform facilitating communication between employers, the government and the trade unions.

A possible solution to the problem lies in supporting and providing an incentive to people and improving the offer of opportunities for further personal development. One of the main factors motivating employees to pursue further education is the prospect of obtaining a more meaningful job and securing a better position on the job market. It is also important to give room to individuals whose employers are not actively providing opportunities for further education. Some employers only enable their senior staff to improve their qualifications. It is therefore essential to pursue the democratization of further education, which must be available to all employees. Another issue is an inability on the part of some employees to admit that they are not sufficiently skilled in some areas. It is very important that the employees themselves understand the need to improve their skills stems from rapid technological growth and is not caused by their incompetence or inability to perform their current jobs properly.

Preparing students for their future employment was another topic discussed at the round-table. This can be facilitated by adapting traditional study fields such as mechanical engineering through introducing elements of digitalization. Generally speaking, schools are not sufficiently preparing their students to flexibly face the future challenges posed by digitalization and the use of artificial intelligence. Teachers themselves often face barriers in using technology and are thus unable to meaningfully convey the important experience to their students to prepare them for the future. The participation of companies and other institutions in the education of the future workforce is also insufficient. The government’s “Strategy 2030”, which is currently being drawn up, will play a key role in this area.

Conclusions and Recommendations

As various studies and practical experience show, the demand for employees with specific technical knowledge will continue to grow. Supporting education and improving/acquiring new digital competences should therefore be among our society’s key priorities—not just within companies, but also on the level of the entire market, including the broader public.

The round-table participants agreed that it is desirable to create a platform enabling representatives of the government, business, educational institutions and academia to work together to identify relevant kinds of educational content and professional skills and determine the jobs prospects of the individual professions.

On 22 September 2020, Aspen Institute Central Europe, in cooperation with the Microsoft Czech Republic, organized an expert round-table on upskilling of Czech employees and entrepreneurs as part of the Digital Sustainability Forum. Due to the Covid-19 restrictions, the event was held online. The aim was to connect people across disciplines and create a unique space for discussion. Representatives from the public administration, academia, business and trade unions met to analyze the current situation, identify future workforce challenges and discuss specific recommendations and suggestions. The debaters agreed upon the need to facilitate communication between employers, the government and the trade unions. It is therefore desirable to create a shared platform to unite the institutions and enhance their cooperation and impact on the labor market.

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