Digital skills and development in the Western Balkans

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 12, 2021 13:12

Digital skills and development in the Western Balkans

By Milena Harito, Former Minister, MP

The six Western Balkans countries, Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia, together representing a population of fewer than 20 million people are the last ones yet engaged in the process of integration in the European Union. Even though this process has been delayed so far, for many reasons, concerning as well the Western Balkans countries as the internal processes of the European Union, the integration process remains an important lever for the transformation of these countries.

In this context, the Regional Cooperation Council located in Sarajevo and co-founded by the European Union have shown prosperity and growth through regional action in Southeast Europe, while supporting European and Euro-Atlantic integration of the Western Balkans economies[1].

In July 2017, with the support of the European Commission, we agreed between the governments of the six Western Balkans countries to introduce the digital integration in the Multi-annual Action Plan for a Regional Economic Area[2].

The digital agenda for the Western Balkans aims to support the transition of the region into a digital economy and bring benefits of the digital transformation to its citizens, such as faster economic growth, more jobs, and better services.

One of the most tangible results of the digital integration for the citizens of the Western Balkans is the agreement on Zero Roaming fees which began some years ago and will be completed from the 1st July 2021.

A lot of challenges remain nevertheless for the Western Balkans Economies and one of the most important ones is the competition for skilled people, reinforced by continuous immigration of young and skilled people towards the European Union.

The pandemic crisis COVID-19 increased the offer and the demand for digital services and the pace of digital transformation of our lives. On the other side, the forthcoming 4th Industrial revolution with the combination of 5G, data usage, IoT, and Artificial Intelligence will transform the job market place as well as the industries, the distribution, the services.

The ever-growing need for digital skills in life, in society, and for the economy as well as the worldwide competition for these skills are the target of the specific report on the digital skills in the Western Balkans financed by RCC[3]. It provides a specific analysis of the digital skills in the six Western Balkans countries for citizens, the labor force, and the ICT professionals, based on the relevant framework in the EU approach and instruments.

The lack of digital skills is a global trend in EU member states as well as in the Western Balkan countries. There is nevertheless a clear difference between basic, intermediate, and advanced digital skills.

The part of individuals who have the basic digitals skills seems to be the same in the Western Balkan countries and EU: around 40% of the EU population has an insufficient level of basic digital skills.

The EU is facing advanced ICT skills shortages that result in a skills gap of approximately one million unfilled jobs in the IT sector. But the citizens of WB6 who have above basic overall digital skills are almost half of the EU average. The lack of intermediate and advanced digital skills impacts the quality of the general workforce. Even a majority of young people who are often considered 'Digital natives do not possess job-relevant digital skills demanded by employers to fill existing job vacancies in the Western Balkans.

The ever-changing technology and technology-rich environment are challenging the citizens, workforce, and ICT professionals to get higher digital skills and competencies constantly. Digital technologies are impacting the economies through all sectors and changing the way economic value is created, the jobs people do, how they do them, and the skills they need for those jobs. In particular, it is increasing the need for digital skills in the workplace. The trend is of course stronger since the COVID19 pandemic crisis increasing the part of teleworking and distant online activities.

The reports of the international partners for the region offer valuable data on general development indicators, employment, skills, and information society in each of the WB6 economies. According to OECD, since 2016 the WB6 economies have taken positive steps towards digital empowerment but still, there is a lot to be done. The challenges are also finance-related, i.e. the need to pay for training for improving skills and the ability to keep the pace of skills acquisition. As such the right considerations and policies on this issue are of great importance.

Each one of the Western Balkans Countries needs a National Strategy and action plan on digital skills, as part of the National Digital Agenda. National Digital Skills and Jobs Coalitions (DSJC) and repositories, as part of the Regional DSJC and EU DSJC, can enable better coordination among all actors and will help to achieve faster results for the economy. The use of the EU Digicomp framework for Citizens can serve as a reference framework to support and improve citizens’ digital competence. Accurate data on the digital society should be gathered regularly and periodically in the WB6 economies which can be used to plan better policies on the information society in general and specifically for the digital skills.

At the Regional level, a very important step in scale economies is to analyze and agree on specialization potentials in the digital economy for the WB6 and existing or potential value chains for scale economies through the Western Balkans. The basis for digital skills policies and programs is agreeing on common standards related to digital skills, with particular attention to the digital skills definition, certification, and evaluation. The establishment of the Regional Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition in WB6 mirroring the experience of EU DSJC would help to create these digital value chains.


[1] http://iktd.org/en/regional-approach-for-improving-digital-skills-in-wb6-economies/

[2] https://www.rcc.int/priority_areas/39/map-rea

[3] http://iktd.org/en/regional-approach-for-improving-digital-skills-in-wb6-economies/

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 12, 2021 13:12