New skills for a green and digital future

Moving towards a climate-neutral and digitalised world calls for new skills, both at work and in our everyday lives. The EU Commission wants to help people acquire these skills, and the BeWell project aims to illuminate the priorities for those working in the health sector.

Text: Dietmar Schobel

We live in a time of change and are faced with two central challenges, both in Europe and globally. One of these involves making the economy and society climate neutral as quickly as possible. The other is to use digitalisation for the maximum benefit of people and nations. Meeting these challenges calls for new skills and expertise – both in the health sector and in all other areas of the working world and society.

The European Skills Agenda is a five-year plan adopted by the European Commission until 2025 to help individuals and businesses to develop more and better skills and to put them to use. According to the EU Commission, this is to be achieved by:

*       Strengthening sustainable competitiveness, as set out in the European Green Deal

*       Ensuring social fairness, putting into practice the first principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights: access to education, training and lifelong learning for everybody, everywhere in the EU

*       Building resilience to react to crises, based on the lessons learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clearly defined goals

The European Skills Agenda defines very specific goals. For example, the share of adults aged 16-74 with at least basic digital skills is to be increased to 70 percent by 2025, compared with a starting level of 56 percent in 2019. And the share of unemployed adults aged 25-64 who have taken part in at least one training session in the past 12 months is to be almost doubled: from 11 percent in 2019 to 20 percent in 2025.

In November 2020, Nicolas Schmit (European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights) and Thierry Breton (European Commissioner for Internal Market in Berlin) unveiled the Pact for Skills. This involves bringing together industry, employers, social partners, chambers of commerce, public authorities, education and training providers, employment agencies and other stakeholders from various sectors. The joint aim is to provide the working population in the European Union with the key skills that they need now and will need in the future – skills that must be updated constantly as part of life-long learning.

Roundtables for various sectors

Roundtables have been organised for various sectors, from agri-food to renewable energies. High-level representatives of health professionals, patients, social partners, research and industry came together in February 2021 for a “Pact for Skills Roundtable on the health ecosystem”. This was chaired by EU Commissioner for Health and Food Security Stella Kyriakides together with the aforementioned EU Commissioners Nicolas Schmit and Thierry Breton.

The meeting dealt firstly with requirements for upskilling and reskilling the existing workforce. It also discussed what training will be needed for the next generation of health workers. The financing instruments that can be used for the necessary measures within the framework of the Pact for Skills include the Recovery and Resilience Facility, ESF+, Erasmus+, REACT-EU, the Digital Europe Programme and Invest EU.

The BeWell project

One of the projects that was initiated here was “BeWell – Blueprint Alliance for a Future Health Workforce Strategy on Digital and Green Skills”. Launched in July 2022, this project is being funded via the ERASMUS+ programme and aims to draw up a strategy for upskilling and reskilling the European healthcare workforce by June 2026. “Upskilling” means further developing or improving existing skills. “Reskilling” is the term used for acquiring new skills, for example for people to take on a new role in their existing position or to change jobs.

Portrait of George Valiotis, Executive Director of European Health Management Association EHMA
George Valiotis, Executive Director of EHMA, Photo: EHMA

Which measures are planned for the BeWell project? As George Valiotis, Executive Director of European Health Management Association EHMA, explains: “Among other things, we want to collect research findings on the skills that will be needed above all in the future and to finalise clear definitions for these. We also want to develop and implement a pilot training on digital and green skills in the healthcare sector and for emerging occupational profiles.” This, he adds, will ultimately lead to a “robust strategy that can be implemented at all levels of the health ecosystem”. EHMA represents healthcare managers and professionals as well as health policymakers, researchers and educators. It plays a leading role in a consortium of 24 full partners and 5 associated partners from 11 European countries tasked with implementing the BeWell project.

The spectrum of digital innovations that are expected to be of growing importance in the health sector in the future is very wide indeed. This ranges from electronic patient records to mobile health apps, wearable devices, telehealth and telemedicine up to medical applications of artificial intelligence. With regard to climate protection as well, there is a wide range of expertise that can be necessary for this, and there are many different possible ways of applying it. This refers to climate-friendly building construction and maintenance, energy supply, mobility and sourcing sustainably produced medical products and food wherever possible. All of this can affect large hospitals or rehabilitation centres in the same way as doctors’ surgeries, pharmacies, outpatient clinics and many other healthcare facilities. And, of course, the skills needed for greening and digitalisation in the healthcare sector are important for all healthcare professions – from physicians and nurses to midwives, pharmacists and physiotherapists, to name just a few.

Interprofessional training

John Middleton, President of ASPHER
John Middleton, President of ASPHER, Photo: private

British expert John Middleton, President of the Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region (ASPHER), emphasises the importance of interprofessional training: “A number of recent studies have demonstrated that interprofessional training – i.e. training different healthcare professionals together – can generally bring about improvements for patients and the healthcare system as a whole. They have also shown that it is of particular importance in connection with the skills needed for the green and digital transition.” The association has 130 members who are based in 43 of the 53 countries in the WHO’s European Region. John Middleton adds that interprofessional training can also help to improve working conditions, thereby reducing the high pressure under which people in the healthcare sector work.

Digitalisation and greening will be featured extensively in the next edition of ASPHER’s European List of Core Competences for the Public Health Professional. Accordingly, they are also set to play an increasingly important role in the training institutions for this scientific discipline. John Middleton: “Not every public health professional needs to become an IT expert or an expert in climatology and ecology, but we argue that all graduates need to understand the basics in these areas, be able to communicate knowledgeably, and form partnerships in multidisciplinary settings with specialists in these areas.” The ability to think systemically and to form alliances between various sectors will become even more important when it comes to tackling the major forthcoming challenges together – both in the healthcare sector and in all other areas of society.