On April 28, several cities and representatives of the Intelligent Cities Challenge (ICC) met for the third Pact for Skills Experts Roundtable. The Roundtable gathered all ESER and ICC members with expertise in upskilling and reskilling, in particular those who officially joined the Pact for Skills.

The Roundtable was organised in the run-up to the official joining of the Pact by the Proximity and Social Economy ecosystem in May 2021, during the European Social Economy Summit. The focus was on the specific role of regions, local authorities and cities in the design and implementation of upskilling and reskilling activities, since they are the strategic and pivotal stakeholders in the implementation of the Pact for Skills for the Proximity and Social Economy ecosystem.

Marie Boscher (Policy Officer Social Economy – DG GROW Proximity, Social Economy, Creative Industries) and Dana Eleftheriadou (Head of Cities and Proximity Team at the European Commission/ DG GROW) moderated the discussion. It started with an introduction by the two hosts who outlined that the event aimed to scope out possible measures to be implemented under the Pact for Skills. They explained that the current crisis provided cities with the opportunity to implement initiatives to support reskilling, which increased the need and relevance of the forthcoming ICC’s “Cities Guide for Reskilling”.

The first point on the agenda was a presentation on the flagship action under the European Skills Agenda - the Pact for Skills. Currently, over 40 public authorities have already signed the Pact. This includes the ICC cities of Valongo (Portugal), Arad (Romania), Pori (Finland), Skellefteå (Sweden), Budapest (Hungary), Alcobendas (Spain), Guimarães (Portugal), Haskovo (Bulgaria).
 
As part of the services that the European Commission provides under the Pact, three Roundtables have been organised:  one on digital skills, one on transformation skills and now one on transformation skills and the pivoting role of cities and regions. 
The outcomes of the discussions will be presented at the final conference of the European Social Economy Summit on 26-27 May.
 
Several ICC representatives presented best practices on upskilling and reskilling. Niels van der Linden (Capgemini) presented the ICC Cities Guide for Reskilling, a pragmatic guide to skilling initiatives in cities. The guide is based on a phased approach to developing and implementing a skilling strategy. He gave examples of how cities used the COVID-19 crisis to implement reskilling initiatives and divert people working in temporary and obsolete jobs to more topical jobs, citing the example of an airport attendant who became a caregiver.

Wim de Weerd (Province of Antwerp, Belgium) shared the two pillars that the Province is currently working on. The first pillar is WISEs, Work Integration Social Enterprises, such as the MIVAS Academy, a training centre for competence development which currently works on packaging, employing people with disabilities. The Province supports local authorities and organisations through funding and learning networks. The second pillar is a programme on lifelong learning and closing the digital gap. The aim is to strengthen the labour market position of low-skilled employees and establish a lifelong learning culture in businesses. This includes working together with digital centres to set up training modules and launching the Provincial Lifelong Learning Fund. This fund provides targeted funding to local co-creation of new hybrid learning initiatives focusing on digital up and reskilling of low skilled employees. 

Meanwhile, Ellen Delie from the Province of East Flanders, Belgium, shared that the main challenge for her Province is finding sustainable employment for low- and medium-skilled people wo experience difficulties in entering the labour market. While the implementation of a circular economy should boost the fight against this challenge through providing new opportunities and jobs, several barriers are also presented. It is hard to define new circular jobs, and cooperation must be ensured within the circular economy ecosystem and the different actors in it.

The Torres Vedras Municipality, Portugal, was represented by Ana Umbelino, who presented some initiatives in the field of upskilling and reskilling. The Municipality co-constructed a course for caregivers by engaging science and academic units, the caregivers’ employers and other training institutions. Since the tourism sector was particularly hit by the pandemic, a process was set in motion to build formal and informal training models for potential employees coming from that sector. They also established a cultural centre to create collective and community intelligence, as well as to improve the preparation of community builder activities like Carnival.

Patricia Ferreira and Paulo Novais presented several initiatives of the Portuguese city of Guimarães. One of those initiatives is the getDigital Academy, which is aimed at overcoming three main existing gaps: companies’ need for skills, the development of training programs for specific fields in order to instigate talent and helping citizens understand their career paths. The Guimarães Career Guidance Programme, in collaboration with Minho University, aims to create courses to support students to better understand their most appropriate career path, offer solid guidance materials to students and workers on the marketplace, and provide training on necessary soft skills. These initiatives are joined by other activities integrated into the city’s upskilling and reskilling strategy. 

The presentations were followed by a discussion and Q&A, where the following important key takeaways were brought forward.
 
Consensus found that cities and regional authorities have an advantage to better verify the competence and skills gaps of citizens given their proximity, accessibility and flexibility to take action. This, together with mapping ability and agility, is essential to better allocate resources and decide the way forward. Good governance and strong monitoring systems to ensure that public funds are well spent and increase public legitimacy are also critical. Receiving regular feedback from citizens and stakeholders on cities’ strategies is further fundamental to establish accountability.
 
ICC thanks all the Roundtable participants and looks forward to continue collaborating in the future!