Resource for promoting geoskills

As part of the raising awareness strategy on geospatial education in Bulgaria, ... created an educational animation to be used within future activities. The movie represents the different applications of geodesy and geospatial technologies as the settings are some characteristic sites in Bulgaria. The examples include distant methods and photogrammetry, levelling, laser scanning, geogetic survey, tunelling, GIS applications, CAD design, etc. The target groups are the pupils (grades 7th and 12th), in order to attract them to continue their studies in the regional vocational training schools and specialized universities respectively.

Conclusions after Brussels conference

After two years working to understand and improve the functionality of the geomarket environment and all its aspects (e.g. stakeholders involved, gaps affecting it or ways to promote the geomarket careers, education and training etc.), the final GeoSkills Plus conference in Brussels was an opportunity to validate the GeoSkills model created by GeoSkills Plus project partners.

The first endorsement was provided by the keynote of Mr. Joao Santos, Head of Unit of the Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion at the European Commission. In his presentation, Mr. Santos gave an excellent overview of the EU skills agenda to be adopted in 2016 and the priorities of the vocational education and training for the next years. He confirmed the European agenda on skills is based on three main pillars:

a) anticipating the future skills needed – whereby the education system should seek to foresee the skills that will be required by the labour market on wider periods of time,

b) supply of skills - much stronger partnerships between employers and education are needed, reform of the education system is necessary so it provides the skills required by the market and should be able to do it much faster and

c) recognition of qualifications and skills, in order to facilitate mobility in Europe (the learning mobility and the labour force mobility is 30% in US, but only 6% in Europe – produced by language barriers, and also national differences in qualifications).

A second interesting aspect in Mr. Santos discourse was that of the future of Vocational Education and Training (VET) in Europe. The boundaries of the European treaty limits the possibilities of imposing regulations to the member states in what regards the VET. But starting from the Lisbon Treaty (which represents the legal base, articles 165 and 166) and with all the key stakeholders brought under the umbrella of Copenhagen process, the EU identified the following priorities for VET in Europe:

1) work-based learning – learning process should involve more the hands-on approach;

2) quality, in terms of defining the curricula, the ways it is transferred to learners, quality of evaluation etc.

3) lifelong learning perspective - provide access to VET not only to young people that are in the educational system, but to people during their entire lives

4) Key competencies development - not only the job-specific ones, but also transversal skills (communication, digital, entrepreneurship, languages, learning to learn etc.)

5) Teachers and trainers education requires permanent access to skills. A new approach to the ways information is transferred to the subjects should start with those doing it; people trained 20 years before or more need to be permanently in contact with the evolution of their domain.

In addition, for those interested on the matter, the tools developed by European institutions such as European Qualification Framework, ECVET (credit system for VET) and EQAVET (European Quality Assurance for VET) can be mentioned.

The Brussels conference benefited of an active debate in the panel coordinated by Hendrik Westerbeek (founder, SAGEO) and that included Joao Santos, Karl Donert (President of EUROGEO), Maurice Barbieri (President of CLGE), Ingrid Vanden Berghe (President of EuroGeographics) and Bruce McCormack (vice-president of EUROGI). Ingrid Vanden Berghe commented how “Everybody is a map-maker today”, but very few people are aware of how much geo we are using every day. Although young people are attracted by IT careers, geo-components of IT education are rather limited.

Bruce McCormack characterised the Geo sector as one of the more progressive ones, with an annual growth rate of 30%. Maurice Barbieri affirmed that if education is more or less a national matter, development and monitoring of geoskills is a European responsibility.

Mr. Joao Santos identified geoskills as one of the candidate domains for sector skills alliance proposal and that the GeoSkills Plus project should be further developed through an Erasmus project focusing on curriculum development or EU common qualifications.

Karl Donert suggested that enabling geoskills at national level is very difficult and this makes harmonisation between different countries really slow. He suggested there is a big need to focus on the stakeholders in the golden pyramid. Business organisations deadlines are much shorter (6 months) compared to the impact of educational policies (5-10 years). Last, but maybe the most important is that geo-education should be part of the core skills and competences developed in secondary school, and incorporated in the statements of the European Commission (available here). People without geoskills will not be able to make meaning of open data and take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the big data revolution.

Mr. Santos pointed out that employers forget they play an important role in developing the attractiveness of their professions. That is about to change in the next 2-3 years, as the EC will encourage companies to become open more to young generations in order to help them better understand what businesses are about. He confirmed two field-related EU initiatives will be implemented in the next years that enhance cooperation, i) the European Alliance for Apprenticeships and ii) launching a VET week/day in Europe.

At the end of this conference section, the participants were invited to approve and sign the Brussels Declaration on GeoSkills in Europe (see photo), a document aiming to promote geoskills as a knowledge sector that is more and more important in Europe's efforts to establish a spatially enabled society and to meet the growing needs for “geoskills” at national and European level. We will discuss this aspect in more details in a dedicated article.

The final section of the conference was dedicated to the Belgium geoskills market, and it generated a number of interesting debates. Rolland Bilen (University of Liege) provided ideas on how the education system can adapt to the new paradigms of the market. Among them, bringing geoskills into secondary schools, strengthening the links with the geo-industry and organising specific geoinformation modules for other disciplines (a similar argument provided also by Brian McCormack in the previous session, of bringing GI into interdisciplinary groups).

Several of the participants in the round table on Belgium emphasised the need for a rebranding of the GEO domain:

  • GEO is obsolete – the needs in data management refer to people that are able to produce value with the data collected in the last 20-30 years (Eric Auquiere);

  • It is not attractive to be data manager, “girls are not interested to become data managers” so maybe we should advertise the jobs as “people that solve our problems” (Hendrik Westerbeek);

  • New definition of the „old-fashion domain of Geography” is required (Eric Bayers).

Kris Lentacker commented that politicians are very important in the golden pyramid, as they are those in charge with the decisions.

The debates support the idea of a profound reform of the educational system and an extended collaboration between the stakeholders involved in the Belgium pyramid.

GEO-News on web

Professor Alper Çabuk makes a very interesting analogy between supervillains from comic books and cartoons and the threats that Earth is facing today (green house gases, famine, drinking water resources, desertification, access to health services etc.). He identifies the “superheroes” in charge of fighting these global challenges not ones with superpowers but technology-based ones: geographical information systems. He promotes the proper use of technology, in particular GIS as a useful powerful tool in decision-making. You can read the entire article here.

Job skills gap is a problem that affects different areas of the world, no matter if we are speaking of developed countries or developing ones. JPMorgan Chase will fund a research project in the United States aiming to identify the middle skills jobs required (higher than secondary school but less than 4-year degree) for the regional employers to fill in order to increase their competitivity and to identify the education, training and credentials that these jobs require. The project results will support stakeholders in understanding the skills and competencies required for various jobs and the institutions providing educational services will be able to adapt their curriculum to what the labour market neerds. The article is available here.

A Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on spatial analysis is available at ESRI. Registered people will get free access to the full analytical capabilities of ArcGIS Online, Esri's cloud-based GIS platform. Previous experience with GIS software is helpful but not compulsory. The course includes hands-on exercises, short video lectures, quizzes, case studies, and discussion. The course lasts for 6 weeks (September 2nd – October 14th, 2015) and the deadline for registering to the course is September 15th, 2015. Participants will receive a certificate of completion and several prizes are offered. Details and registration on ESRI website.

I remind you that only few places are available for the Geoskills Plus conference that will take place in Brussels on September 17th, 2015. Registration is free of charge, all the details are available here.

Conclusions after Vilnius workshop

Understanding and raising awareness of the paradigms and challenges influencing the geospatial labour market is the main goal of GeoSkills Plus, a Transfer of Innovation Project funded by the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Commission. One of the means involved for achieving the project objectives is by organising meetings with decision-makers from several countries and in different regions of Europe.

The third GeoSkills Plus workshop was held in Vilnius, Lithuania on 6-7 May 2015. The participants, from 10 countries, looked at bridging the gap between the needs of geo-industry and the approaches to education and training by developing and then applying national geocapacity building implementation plans.

Listening to the presentations of each country representatives at the 3rd GeoSkills Plus workshop in Vilnius, I realised that the situation across Europe is quite different between countries like Bulgaria and Lithuania. Workshop participants provided different perspectives – they represented public authorities, academic staff and the private sector. In some countries (e.g. Belgium) there is a clear need for more specialised staff in the fields of geodetics, surveying, GIS and geo-technologies and also to increase the number of students involved in geo-related university education and training programmes.

In some cases, it appears universities have a shortage of specialised staff and can't afford to employ more people, this is especially the case for smaller institutions and in situations where the number of students/year has been declining (e.g. in Lithuania). The situation presented was even more severe for Masters programmes, where the specialised level of training needs to be even higher. As the geo-industry thrives and grows on innovation, involving the private sector in developments in postgraduate education would appear to be critical.

Flexible cooperation with public and private sector is one possible solution for universities to help them attract more students and for companies to get better trained employees. Companies, especially those with ISO certification, need to permanently upskill their employees. Rapidly developing technologies (both hardware and software) reinforces this need.

Industry could train their own employees by building trusted connections with universities, following a negotiated curriculum ensuring it meets their needs, for example by offering professional Masters level courses. This is happening in Sweden (according to Hesper Paasch - presentation available here) where following a Swedish National Survey a 4 ECTS SDI course was developed for students who are employees of Lantmateriet. This is why involving industry representatives in university curriculum development and design is recommended, in order to help adapt it to market needs. Of course, this must be carefully planned in advance, as professional training programmes usually need to be accredited by the Ministry of Education (e.g. every 5 years in Romania) or by a professional accreditation body (e.g. RICS in the UK).

For countries where professional curricula are more flexible and the teachers have the opportunity to choose from a wider agenda, dialogue is necessary in order to prioritise those things that are really important for the labour market. Of course, the use of ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) enhances the capacity of adapting the curriculum to market needs.

Since there are countries in Europe where there are more specialists than the market can absorb labour force mobility within the European market would be a natural solution for the market to rebalance itself, as there are countries lacking trained staff. On the other hand, mobility can only be successful in cases where the skills gained in one country are what the market needs in others and acknowledged in the receiving country.

A stark warning was presented by Tiit Hion of Estonia (presentation available here), who said that according to Siim Sikkut, government advisor, an estimated 70% of todays ICT-based jobs are likely to disappear in the coming years. Is the length of traditional geoskills educational programmes "scaring" possible students?

The final question raised by Karl Donert (President of the European Association of Geographers - left photo) was whether the present geospatial education system is able to create graduates that are flexible enough to learn faster (on the fly), to adapt to the 21
st century working environments, where people tend to change their job and/or position in a company more often than they used to 30 years ago and where consultancy, entrepreneurship and freelance employees are becoming the norm. 

Bridging the geoskills gap: planning awareness raising with GeoSkills+

The actions and outcomes of the United Nations initiative on Global Geospatial Information Management indicate how significant geospatial careers will be in the future. Despite this development, geospatial disciplines struggle to attract enough students to pursue studies leading to careers in the field in several European countries. Academic and vocational training departments are risk and may close unless awareness raising is undertaken to increase the attractiveness of geo-professions and reduce the gap between course supply and low student demand.

Based on best practices and research on specific national gaps and needs (discussed in our previous article on this blog), the GeoSkills+ project has established national awareness raising strategies promoting the benefits of geo-education for society to be implemented in Belgium, Bulgaria and Lithuania. The proposed awareness raising approaches for implementation can be divided into five broad categories: Personal communication, Mass communication, Education (including promotion campaigns among minors), Public Relations and Advocacy. The tasks foreseen within the implementation plan for each country are designated to address several target groups. The success of the implementation plan will be measured using a system of performance indicators.

The best practices in the analysed countries include: educational events such as GIS Day, Science festivals, researchers nights etc.; specific meetings/events that connect employers, employees and educational institutions preparing future workers in the field; web initiatives like the GoGeo campaign and GeoPlaza portal in the Netherlands and Geomobiel project in Belgium; and competition-based actions such as the development of mobile applications. Concerning the existing situation in the different countries, a questionnaire was applied to three interest groups: students, educators and the business sector. The results are synthesised in the picture below.

The most important target groups to be addressed by the GeoSkills+ project have been identified as: vocational students in ACEG and mathematical schools, mass media including popular science shows and magazines, TV, radio, Internet, national government authorities and institutions, businesses and investors operating in geospatial sector. Depending on the available resources, other target groups will also be considered.

The implementation plan includes a preliminary phase, the campaign itself and an evaluation phase. Preliminary activities refer to preparing the personnel to implement the campaign, attracting resources to achieve campaign goals and identifying the proper means to do it. A teasing approach is recommended with:

  • activities for capacity building of the institutions involved (training staff involved via dedicated workshops),
  • getting an ambassador for the campaign (a public official or renowned educator/scientist/businessman, whose image will help to focus public attention on the awareness rising campaign),
  • attracting sponsors for the campaign (companies from the geospatial business would be more likely to get involved),
  • promotion via meetings, press briefings (radio, TV, newspapers), printed materials (leaflets, booklets, banners), merchandising (T-shirts) and campaign newsletter/manifest; the specific aim would be to foster the public attention on the upcoming campaign.

The national awareness raising campaign itself will open with a major event (public forum, conference, meetings etc.) where the benefits of geo-education to vocational and university candidate students and parents can be explained before the start of the academic / school year. The event will include representatives of all key players of the geospatial market such as prominent business representatives, as well as university/academia members. It is very important that the event achieves a significant impact in the mass-media.

For each public awareness raising campaign on the importance of geodesy and geospatial education, several general actions are foreseen.

Personal communication will focus on presentations to geo-related conferences and wider audience events, smaller-scale public fora, presentations or workshops to vocational and university students, parents, teachers and face to face meetings in schools addressed to vocational students and parents.

Mass communication to involve feature articles for promotion of geo-education and geospatial technologies in popular science magazines, posters and brochures with explanation of what geodesy and geoinformatics are and how they can provide excellent future professional realisation of the students, a cartoon on geodesy, audio-visual resources (pre-recorded), short educational movies on GIS, a website/blog, media interviews and electronic publications accessible via the Internet, participation on local radio and television talk-shows.

Formal and informal educational programs can be carried out in schools, colleges, adult learning centres and libraries, museums etc. They could involve static and travelling exhibitions and displays, participation to science communication meetings and conferences, papers and presentations related to promotion of geo-education or geo-related exhibitions and demonstrations during popular events such as FIG Working week, European Night of Museums, Famelab International 2015 „Talking Science“ competition, European Researchers’ Night, science fairs, Geospatial World Forum, and connecting with large scale events like International GIS Day 2015, Earth Day or International Map Year. As mobile technology is getting more and more part of our lives, geo-related games and quizzes could be also developed.

Public relations (PR) efforts should focus on establishing and maintaining the reputation and credibility of the awareness-raising campaign. Regular press briefings should be produced on geo-related events in order to stay in contact with mass-media. Promotion of Open Doors Days at vocational schools and universities should be also considered wehre appropriate.

Advocacy will try to form strategic alliances and partnerships with government, civil society and commercial organisations. Meetings with government officials, geo-sector business and dedicated NGO, involved in education are essential for raising key people awareness on geospatial matters.

The full implementation plan report is available here. For further comments and suggestions, please contact: Dimitar Velichkov, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 If you would like to attend the next free GeoSkills workshop (in Vilnius, 6-7 May 2015) click here.

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