SCiDEV panel discussion on unlocking the transformative benefits of digital skills in Albania with a key message: inclusive digitalisation

The spread of digital technologies has a tremendous impact on work, the labor market, and the variety of skills needed in the economy and society. Furthermore, COVID-19 has expedited the digital transformation process across many sectors, particularly the economy and education. Innovation, smart growth, and competitiveness for the future digital economy around the corner require building up digital skills for young people, the workforce, and consumers. Centre Science and Innovation for Development (SCiDEV), with the support of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Albania, hosted an open forum with stakeholders to explore how prioritizing digital skills upgrade in Albania can boost the economy. By bringing together the perspectives of policymakers, business, academia, and civil society, SCiDEV is initiating partnerships that transform the digital future’s challenges into opportunities. We aim to raise awareness on the full potential of digital skills for the future of Albania’s economy, also in light of the European integration perspective and the SDGs.

HE Ambassador Guusje Korthals Altes, Embassy of the Netherlands in Albania, underlined that “Nowadays technology is no longer an option, but a necessity. However, we need to ensure to keep people at the heart of this process and ensure inclusivity“.  She also highlighted the achievements of Netherlands in this regard as a frontrunner in digital skills as core pillar of economic growth. Mr. Arjan Goudsblom, from Preneurz Amsterdam, shared more about the Dutch experience regarding innovation ecosystem, knowledge system and digital transformation. He highlighted the new model of entrepreneurial university and the need for greater coordination among different stakeholders, also pointing about the work that is currently being done by the EU for Innovation Programme. Mr Goudsblom emphasised the challenges in changing culture and mindsets towards digital transformation and innovation, thus it is important to work with younger generations and education system.

When it comes to digitalization and digital skills, inclusion remains a critical issue, without ensuring inclusive digitalization we risk to further marginalize certain groups in society. The COVID19 pandemic particularly highlighted the risks of digital exclusions of those who have and those who have not. Thus, Mrs Senida Mesi, Head of Parliamentary sub-committee on Sustainable Development Goals & Deputy Head of European Integration Parliamentary Committee focused on how to attain Sustainable Development Goals in a digital future in the case of Albania by paying attention to the roles of both government on one side and private sector on the other regarding building up digital skills for citizens and employers. Mrs Mesi highlighted the relevance of developing and upgrading skills that are fit for the labour market of tomorrow, pointing to the VET sector, but also the entire education system in the country, including higher education. Similar to other panellists, she also emphasised the need for collaboration between policy sector, civil society, education and private sector to boost digital transformation, which is inclusive and contributes to economic growth.

Professor Selami Xhepa, senior economy expert and President of the European University of Tirana, focused on COVID-19 crisis impact and the opportunities of digitalization in the Albanian economy. He pointed out that the current crisis is actually an opportunity to expedite change, particularly regarding digital transformation, but investment is required in infrastructure, skills and also in mentality and culture. Prof. Xhepa concluded that we need coordination and cooperation between stakeholders to build up new skills emphasizing human empathy and originality, mental stability and emotional intelligence. Also, in the digital word production seems to matter less and distribution becomes the key word. This has many implications, which require reflection and critical assessment.

Dr. Erjon Curraj, digital transformation expert and Jean Monnet Module Coordinator with a grant awarded by the European Commission on embracing the digital agenda and exploring challenges and opportunities in the case of Albania at the Professional College of Tirana, focused his intervention on digital skills, digital transformation and innovation for finding the economic niche of Albania in the post COVID-19 world. He emphasised: “We need inclusive digitalization and sustainable innovation and focus on digital skills education for young generations and upgrading of skills for human resources in both public and private sectors”.  He stressed that stakeholders from academia, business, policy and civil society need to work together to provide solutions to challenges on how to use the potential of modern information and communication technologies in order to improve the quality of life of all citizens, increase employment, work efficiency and economic growth of society. Dr. Curraj suggested that all level education institutions should be promoters of digital skills and digital transformation. This requires strengthening digital of teachers, overcoming the digital divide by developing ICT skills of young people in Albania. Digital Skills may play a role only if we talk Digital Transformation, so this means change in mentality, not just ICT infrastructure. He introduced the idea of a Digital Skills Hub concept: Government, Business, Academy, Excellent Centers working together. In addition, all level of enterprises are to focus on digital skills and digital transformation. Finally, Albania should work on a national strategy on developing further Digital Skills. An interesting niche for Albanian economy is smart specialization on Cyber Security and ICT enablers for SME sustainable growth.

 Mrs Florensa Haxhi, Director for Development Programs & Program Manager for Regional Economic Area, Prime Minister’s Office highlighted the work of the government in this regarding and emphasising that collaboration with other actors such as the universities, private sector, NGOs is a must. “Regional Cooperation is crucial because together with our neighbours we can achieve better results at a shorter period of time”, she concluded.