Policies and initiatives to improve digital skills: policies and digital business in rural areas of Extremadura

In a world where the digital sector is ever growing and digital business and activities are becoming more and more prominent, having a developed set of digital skills has become something not only desirable, but of the upmost importance. Digitalization has permeated into every sector and stratum of society and has fundamentally transformed the way we buy, entertain ourselves and even socialize among each other but, even though society as a whole has a pretty good set of skills for an everyday use of digital tools, we still find sectors and communities that still lack a potent and developed set of digital skills suited for the labour market.

Among these groups are rural NEETs, young people that live in rural areas that face a lack of job opportunities and more often than not also a lack of digital infrastructures. Even though the situation is changing and the “internet-free zones” or “digital shadow zones”, as translated verbatim from Spanish, becoming less and less prominent and there has been significant effort from the public and private sector to improve connectivity in Extremadura, there are still communities where the access to the internet is very difficult and any kind of digital business or economic activity requires a considerable amount of extra effort.

It is also worth noting the disparity between digital skills among young people. Studies show that even though young people tend to be more competent with digital tools, this doesn’t necessarily translate to have a developed set of skills that are relevant and improve their employability. To solve this and improve digital skills of society as a whole and, specifically, those of young NEETs there are several initiatives takin place in the region.

First of all, starting on 2020 the Regional Government of Extremadura implemented the Digital Modernisation Plan. Encompassing four years, this plan wants to improve the amount of digital services public institutions offer to the citizens, improving its digital infrastructure and making administrative processes more agile while guaranteeing data and information from its citizen. Encompassing four years, this plan wants to improve the number of digital services public institutions offer to the citizens, improving its digital infrastructure and making administrative processes more agile while guaranteeing data and information from its citizen. With this Plan, the Government wants the public sector to become more accessible by using digital tools, while also offering in-situ services for those citizens that are not comfortable or do not have the means necessary to do these procedures. In parallel and in order to strengthen digital skills of society as a whole and to improve their job prospects, there is the Digital Skills Plan for employability in Extremadura. This plan aims to help citizens from Extremadura in acquiring and developing digital skills and, therefore, improving employability by giving specific trainings and workshops in the different centers scattered through the region, focusing mainly on young people, NEETs and entrepreneurs.

In line with these efforts from public institutions, FUNDECYT-Scientific and Technological Park of Extremadura is currently implementing two different projects aiming to improve the digital skills of young NEETs and young entrepreneurs. First of all, within the framework of the RAISE Youth project, the team of FUNDECYT-PCTEX launched the RAISE Youth Digital Toolbox, an online platform with a wide range of different online tools, training and resources that will help young NEETs using it develop their own digital skills in a professional setting while also encouraging them to develop their own business ideas. One step forward is the Digital Innovation Hubs, a European strategy that by providing access to technical expertise and testing and innovation services in Extremadura accompany not only young NEETs that have become entrepreneurs and want to further expand their initiatives, but also well-established companies that might need help tackling environmental issues by fostering the use of digital technologies for sustainability and circularity.

Thanks to the efforts made by public institutions to improve connectivity and digital infrastructures in the region, the implementation of different policies that promote the creation of digital business and the increase interest from the private sector in reallocating in Extremadura thank to its affordability, the digital sector in Extremadura has experienced an exponential growth in the last few years. With successful and sustainable digital business with a social perspective, such as Metaphase07 in Alburquerque, young people from rural areas are getting the opportunity to work in the digital and technological sector without having to leave their communities, thus fixing population to small villages and rural communities and decreasing the ever-growing problem of rural brain drain and ageing of population. It is of the upmost importance that the public and private sector collaborate and come up with solutions to help develop digital skills of society as a whole, yes, but specially of those communities and groups that will need special help to get to the same level as other privileged groups and ensure that everyone has the same opportunities to access such a strategical and present sector as the digital and technological sector.


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