In November 2019, a focus group was conducted in Milan, Italy, with the goals of understanding the opinions, beliefs of the participants and investigate their knowledge of the subject of digital skills and competencies. The aim of the focus group activity was to collect additional qualitative data on the theme ‘digital skills and competencies applied to youth work, young people and employers’ in order to complete and enrich the data gathered previously from the desk research, the national report and the survey.
The focus group was structured and organised around 4 types of activities. The majority of the activities were group activities. The 3 steps were used in order to conduct the activity and foster the discussion among participants.
The number of participants for focus group activity in Italy was the following: a total of 9 participants, differently divided in groups and/or sub-groups depending on the activity in question. The composure of the focus group included 2 youth workers, 5 youth persons and 2 persons representative of companies/associations/entities active in the digital environment, i.e. employers.
The activities of the focus group were facilitated by two moderators. The ‘scene’ of the focus groups was a gathering of participants around a table to informally discuss and share ideas and opinions about the topic of the project: the moderators, two employees of the European Digital Learning Network, were responsible for moderating the discussion and leading the activities, animating the debate it through a set of questions after a short introduction and a brief presentation of the project.
Activity One: Presentation of the survey: questionnaire targeting employers and questionnaire targeting youth workers and young people
The research finally started with the question: “what are your thoughts about the survey on digital skills and competencies (Digital Competence Framework targeted to the Digitalised Economy)?” The participants reacted promptly and a fruitful discussion begun. In the group all the participants were interested in the subject of the survey, recognising the importance of digital competencies and skills in the work sphere. In particular, the main observations emerged from the discussion were:
- Awareness and satisfaction for the generally high level – competence and advanced- of Italian youngsters for what concerns Digital Content Creation, Evaluation and Editing: the topics and the features are now party of daily experience of each of us, not just in respect to work and professional tasks.
- General agreement, independently from the status, that Web Design and Coding&Robotics were the most desired advanced digital competencies and areas of expertise, both for employers, both for youngsters. In particular, the accent was put on the transversal value of Coding because “…is a kind of mentality and approach to thinking, not just an area of expertise”.
- The opinions on the methods preferred by interviewed was quite divergent: the youngsters were in favour of a face to face learning and teaching method while the employers were strongly pending towards online courses and trainings; while the results of the survey showed a blended methodology as the favourite one actually.
Activity Two: The list of 10 jobs
In continuity with the introductory questions, which warmed up the atmosphere and engaged the participants referring to the surveys’ results, the moderators led the way to a more focused, precise exchange of views, beliefs and opinions specifically on the 10 jobs list. To facilitate the debate, the group was divided in 3 smaller groups of 3 persons each and asked to comment the list. The main observations about it were:
- General perplexity about the profiles of Social Media manager, Digital Media Specialist, Digital Marketing Expert. For youth worker and young people such figures did not appear so much in need of specific qualifications while for employers they were seen as mere Marketer and Communicators.
- Cyber security emerged as being a top priority in every field of work – services, ICT, Industry and Commerce- therefore nobody was surprised of finding cyber security expert in the list. The same for Data and Big Data Scientist.
- Positions such as Sale Assistant and Online Store Manager were object of debate: what skills in term of digital competencies do these positions “…really require?”
Activity Three: The abilities/capabilities identified through the survey.
The moderator briefly resumed the points discussed along the whole activity and invited the participants, divided always in sub-groups of 3 persons each, to discuss and have their say about the specific competencies resulted from the analysis of the two questionnaires. Some mentioned comments and ideas were the following:
- General interest on the Digital/Social Media, in particular on the skills of reaching wider publics and influence the others. The subject is almost ‘native’ to youngsters, so it is not a competency that they felt they should investigate and boost further because: “…it comes naturally; we all are daily users…”
- Coding is very important nowadays but the groups agreed that computational thinking learning should start in formal educational paths from elementary school, if not it is difficult to apply it as transversal skill in professional life unless you have had a specific background on IT. STEM careers are not the most popular in Italy regardless of their priority importance.
- The competencies linked to Web Design, which resulted in the top desired ranking in the survey, were commented as being expression of the mistrust and frustration of young people towards the job markets’ conditions and situation. Employers in fact stressed the fact that specialised figures are always required but did not understand why there was so much eagerness to learn about how to build a website or a digital platform.
The identification of the most important advanced digital skills/competencies.
The end of the session was animated by a dynamic activity: keeping in mind the considerations of the group about the abilities emerged in the survey, the facilitators asked the participants to create groups according to their preferred advanced digital skill, where preferred meant the one seen and considered the most crucial for the future of the digital economy in Italy. The 9 participants quickly divided in sub-groups, whose structure is described above:
- Sub Group Digital/Social Media: 1 person
- Sub Group Coding: 6 persons
- Sub Group Programming: 2 persons
The four activities during the focus groups conducted among Italian youth workers, young people and employers in the digital environment on the topic of digital competencies and advanced skills in the framework of digitalised economy substantially confirmed the figures emerged from the analysis of the survey – the two questionnaires- previously done and provided new qualitative data for the project’s research.