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Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development-OECD, Webinar on “Digital upskilling, reskilling & finding talent: The role of SME ecosystems” (held virtually on March 31st, 2022, under the auspices of two OECD initiatives: “Digital for SMEs” Global Initiative (D4SME) and the “Entrepreneurship Education, Collaboration, and Engagement” (EECOLE) Network

The D4SME & EECOLE webinar on “Digital upskilling, reskilling & finding talent: The role of SME ecosystems” was held virtually on 31 March 2022. It gathered over 100 participants from 44 countries – including representatives from OECD and non-OECD countries, business associations and business representatives from SMEs, SMEs association, as well as Universities and Higher Educational Institutions. The “Digital for SMEs” Global Initiative (D4SME) is a multi-stakeholder dialogue engaging governments, large and small businesses, industry experts and associations on how to enable all SMEs to seize the benefits of digitalisation. The “Entrepreneurship Education, Collaboration, and Engagement” (EECOLE) Network aims to connect HEIs with business, finance, government at different levels, and civil society. The aim of the Network is to promote entrepreneurship education and skills and strengthen the role of HEIs as drivers of inclusiveness and sustainability. These initiatives are led by the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities (CFE). Digital technologies offer different opportunities for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to improve performance. The uptake of software can help innovate products and expand markets, improve business processes and intelligence, enabling small and medium enterprises to lower transaction costs, while freeing energy and resources for more knowledge-intensive activities. Nevertheless, SMEs face substantial challenges in accessing and using effectively digital technologies. The gap is also pronounced between smaller and larger firms. One of the main barriers for SMEs is the lack of skills to master and effectively embed digital technologies in business processes. Factors such as the lack of awareness about skills needs for the digital economy, lack of knowledge about training and mentoring opportunities, and higher relative costs in finding and retaining talent can limit the development of digital skills. Closing the digital skills gap is a key step to the digital transformation of SMEs. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are at the core of the “knowledge economy”, but they cannot be leveraged without investment in human capital. SMEs are often unable to access digital talent or expertise within their ecosystem, or are unaware of how to up- and re-skill the existing workforce in an affordable and effective manner. Due to size and resource constrains, many small firms leverage on their ecosystem and networks to access the relevant skills to transform their business models to be digital, and unlock opportunities to be more productive, sustainable and resilient. Governments, higher education institutions (HEIs), large firms, specialised training providers, professionals and technology practitioners can all contribute to closing the digital skills gap for SMEs. They can work together to develop practical and innovative digital learning for SMEs. Proximity among these actors can facilitate collaboration, but proximity alone it is not enough. Impactful digital learning is achieved when stakeholders from private and public sectors and HEIs have the skills, capacity and resources to implement an effective lifelong learning system. In this context, the event “Digital upskilling, reskilling & finding talent: The role of SME ecosystems” aimed to understand and define the role of HEIs in the SMEs ecosystem, to unleash opportunities for trainings to develop digital skills, maximising partnerships within networks and communities.