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Upskilling Europe's small businesses for the digital age

Skills for digital marketing, social media, cybersecurity, web development and data analytics are what small and medium enterprises (SMEs) most want to improve on. These are the interim findings of a European pilot project which will now pilot training courses in these areas for SME employees and unemployed in Murcia, Spain and in Lithuania. The final objective is to develop “blueprints” to upskill small businesses all over Europe.

Upskilling Europe's small businesses for the digital age

European Commission

Upskilling Europe's small businesses for the digital age

Today the Commission published the Interim Report of the Pilot Project on digital skills: New Professions, New Educational Methods, New Jobs which will design training solutions in digital skills to upskill SMEs' labour force. The project will develop a structured programme for training of SME employees and the unemployed in digital skills required in the modern workplace.

Five trainings will be piloted in the region of Murcia in Spain and in Lithuania from June till September 2018 in areas covering digital marketing, cybersecurity, data analytics, programming and software development which respond to the SMEs' needs identified by the project. The final training blueprints are expected by end of 2018 and will be replicable and scalable in other European regions looking to close the digital skills gap in SMEs.

The pilot project has conducted 40 interviews in Murcia and Lithuania with SMEs, training providers, employees, jobseekers and policymakers, followed by public round-tables with experts.

The findings show that growth opportunities combined with the lack of available external candidates are the main driving forces for SMEs to upskill their employees while the biggest barrier is lack of time and resources. It is important for SMEs to identify an immediate benefit to the company to commit the scarce resources to training during working hours. Other obstacles are the lack of information on available and relevant trainings, the cost of training, inflexible timetables and distance. A focus on delivery and short-term objectives at the expense of a longer-term vision appear to be an overall issue for the SMEs preventing them from planning their skills policy.

The research shows that the needs of SMEs vary and that the specific skills lacking depend on the type of SMEs. However, there are universal tools for business intelligence, marketing, e-commerce or client relationship management that are common and useful to all SMEs. The stakeholders also emphasised a need for an internal "digital leader" that would support the bottom-up initiatives where the management does not have the capacity to sustain transformation and digital skills training.

The consortium carrying out the pilot project is composed of BluSpecs Innovation, CIVITTA, and the Polytechnic University of Cartagena. More information is available on the project website.

For more information about the Pilot Project, please contact


Digital Skills: New Professions, New Educational Methods, New Jobs - Interim Report (SMART/2016/1006)