Technology is advancing in leaps and bounds and academic programmes are striving to keep up.
How can students join the labour market in such a rapidly changing world in which the social and economic landscape is constantly reshaped by the latest trends in technology? It would seem that the answer lies in mastering a series of transferable skills that enable people to adapt to different situations, alongside lifelong learning, which helps people acquire specific and technical skills.
Striving to rise above the technological maelstrom
Metaverse, blockchains, data lakes, avatars, affective computing, generative adversarial networks (GANs), autonomous vehicles, robotic workforces… This array of technology-related concepts is often the focus of discussion in the news, from pioneering technologies to trend reports, and it is beginning to affect almost all industries in one way or another. Despite being the product of decades of research, most of these concepts have only become widely known in the last five years.
As workers interact with increasingly smart machines – which perform the more basic repetitive, cognitive and physical tasks – the demand for transferable skills is increasing , especially with regard to social, emotional and tech skills. This is the observation of the consultancy firm McKinsey & Company, substantiated by the figures for 2030 as compared to those for 2016 in Europe and the United States: it is estimated that the percentage of hours spent on physical and manual tasks will fall by 14%, social and emotional skills will increase by 24% and technological skills will rise by as much as 55%. The same study reveals that the skills which human resource specialists find most lacking – and on which education should place special emphasis – are problem solving, critical thinking, and innovation and creativity; the ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity, and communication. The importance of the latter was stressed noted in Educause’s 2019 report The Higher Education IT Workforce Landscape , in which respondents indicated that effective communication is an essential component to perform well in the workplace. Alongside these social skills, there is a clear need to improve digital literacy in all aspects.
The overview of digital and technological skills in Spain
In terms of Spain, the European Commission highlighted in its Education and Training Monitor 2020 report that the crisis resulting from COVID-19 revealed a clear socioeconomic divide in the access that students have to digital technology. However, the educational curriculum includes digital skills in all areas of education; they form part of other compulsory courses in primary and lower secondary education or are separate compulsory courses in upper secondary education, including vocational training .
The same report from the year 2021  sheds light on the following aspects: although a high percentage of the country’s population have completed higher education in comparison to the European Union average, there are still low levels of employability and a mismatch in terms of skills. Likewise, enrolment in higher levels of vocational training continues to be a challenge.
Bearing in mind the current importance for workers to possess the necessary technological skills, and assuming that this trend will only increase in the near future, there is another finding in the report which should not be overlooked: women continue to be underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. To this point, we should also add that the gender digital divide, which we looked at in this blog post, is still an issue. The fact remains that every child should be given regular access to ICT tools to develop skills such as creating their digital identity and improving their media literacy. In order to tackle all these problems, in 2020 the Spanish government launched the Plan for Digitalization and Development of Digital Skills, alongside its Educa en Digital programme. They also implemented measures to improve the digital skills of students and teachers, and in schools in general, with the aim of reducing the digital divide.
Competency-based educational programmes
On an international scale, many educational institutions are striving to address this problem. Incorporating skills holistically into the educational curriculum and training programmes is a sure sign that institutions are striving to equip students with the necessary abilities and resources to face an ever-changing world in which there will be a growing demand for new professions that require digital skills. A good example of this is 42, the philanthropic initiative launched by Xavier Niel. The aim of this worldwide free school of computer science, which also has campuses in Madrid and Barcelona, is to produce specialists in this field, in response to the current need for computing professionals.
Alverno College has set up an academic programme that incorporates eight different abilities into the curriculum to help students when they enter the labour market. These abilities include communication, analysis, problem-solving, participation in decision-making, social interaction, the development of a global perspective, effective citizenship and aesthetic engagement. It follows a competency-based model of education which blends knowledge and the ability to apply it throughout one’s life.
As for the UOC, its learning model is geared towards promoting the constant improvement of students’ skills through individual work, joint construction of knowledge, and support from teaching staff. Its assessment method promotes the achievement of learning objectives and the development of competencies. Since 2018, the UOC has incorporated a pilot system for assessing the skills that students develop over the course of their programmes. This system, known as GRAF, provides a graphic report for each student starting from the moment they begin a course until the time they graduate. This report can be personalized and downloaded. It adds value to the student’s CV and academic record, as it can be shared for a range of purposes in both the educational and professional spheres.
In view of the data presented here, the importance of incorporating transferable skills into the curriculum and investing in lifelong learning to improve employability is abundantly clear. These elements would allow companies to recruit qualified workers so that they can meet market demands. This would lead to a reduction in unemployment figures, especially with regard to the older population. With the emergence of new technologies and disciplines, and to cope with the impact of ethical dilemmas, we need to blend technical and scientific disciplines with the humanities if we are to make the most of technological innovations. Likewise, the implication of the industrial and service sectors in academia and education (and higher education, in particular) is also a very promising option for jointly developing people’s skills and employability.
 McKinsey & Company. (2020). Soft skills for a hard world. McKinsey Quarterly. Available at https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/five-fifty-soft-skills-for-a-hard-world.
 Galanek, J. and Gierdowski, D. C. (2019). Skills needed and how to get them. From: The Higher Education IT Workforce Landscape. EDUCAUSE. Available at https://www.educause.edu/ecar/research-publications/the-higher-education-it-workforce-landscape-2019/skills-needed-and-how-to-get-them.
 Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture (European Commission). (2020). Education and Training Monitor 2020. Spain. Available at https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/c9527d62-2497-11eb-9d7e-01aa75ed71a1.
 Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture (European Commission). (2021). Education and Training Monitor 2021. Spain. Available at https://op.europa.eu/webpub/eac/education-and-training-monitor-2021/es/spain.html.
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