Have you ever heard the EU Digital Agenda?

If you are based in or interested in the European Market of almost 500 million people you probably should.

This strategic document covers the main directions of the ICT policy of the European Union for the next 5 years. One of its seven pillars talks explicitly about “Enhancing e-Skills” and suggests activities tackling the problem of the digital divide but also of employment. A recent EU study discovered that by 2014 nine from ten jobs won´t be accessible for applicants without sufficient IT skills. That´s definitely a call to action not only for governments but also for business and civil society towards better education and training of the relevant target audiences.

2.6.1. Digital literacy and skills

It is essential to educate European citizens to use ICT and digital media and particularly to attract youngsters to ICT education. The supply of ICT practitioner and e-business skills, i.e. the digital skills necessary for innovation and growth, needs to be increased and upgraded. In addition, given there are 30 million women between the ages of 15-24, it is necessary to improve the attractiveness of the ICT sector for professional use and in particularly for the production and design of technology. All citizens should be made aware of the potential of ICT for all kind of professions. This calls for multi-stakeholder partnerships, increased learning, recognition about digital competences in formal education and training systems, as well as awareness raising and effective ICT training and certification outside formal education systems, including the use of online tools and digital media for re-skilling and continuing professional development43. Based on the experience gained from the first "European e-Skills Week" (1-5 March 2010)44, the Commission will support the in 2010 and thereafter, national and European awareness raising activities with a view to promote ICT education, careers and jobs to young people as well as to foster digital literacy among citizen and ICT training for the workforce and the adoption of best practices.

Microsoft Austria has taken up on this challenge and initiated the National IT-Fitness Initiative, which enjoys broad support by Austrian government and institutions, including Austrian Ministry of Education, Austrian Ministry of Social, Labor and Consumer Interests, the Austrian Labor Market Service, the Federal Chancellery, the Federal Chamber of Commerce, the Austrian Industry Association and NGOs like the Austrian Computing Society or Seniorkom.at. Big players from the IT industry including HP, Cisco and T-Systems are also partners.

So far more than 31,000 Austrians have already participated in the IT-Fitness Check at the webpage www.it-initiative.at and took the opportunity to look for further learning opportunities at the web portal, including blended learning courses and free online trainings for improving their e-skills. The webpage offers tailored services and information for three areas of life – school, work and spare time.

Recently the initiative shared its latest initiatives at a press conference with the Minister of Social, Labor and Consumer Interests. The Austrian Labor Service revealed a new IT training initiative for unemployed people and the partner seniorkom.at announced new trainings for seniors, where students are teaching seniors as part of their education at school. A pretty smart approach in my humble opinion.

Federal Minister for Social, Labor and Consumer Interests, Rudolf Hundstorfer and Petra Jenner, GM Microsoft Austria at Press Conference IT-Fitness Initiative

At this press conference Microsoft Austria also launched the "FIT Your Town Contest", looking for the "IT-fittest" city or municipality in Austria. The competition will last until end of January 2011. Based on the zip-code of the participants of the self-check test, the winning city will be detected and awarded with a full featured PC including hard- and software and the consultancy for the start of a “Smart-Mice” Kindergarten which includes training and support for the special “Smart-Mice” software from Microsoft.

You will find the IT-Fitness Initiative also on Facebook.

Thomas Lutz is the PR and Public Affairs Manager at Microsoft Austria