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E-Leadership: New Skills in a New Age

Bob Little 

October 28, 2016

Some people bemoan the loss of “traditional” crafts and skills, along with “time-honored” working practices, in this post-industrial, technological age. Others are concerned about the need to develop enough exponents of previously unheard-of skills, to keep their organizations – and even whole countries – competitive in world markets. E-leadership belongs firmly to this latter category of skills.

According to Nagy K Hanna who authored a working paper on this subject in 2007, published by the World Bank the University of Maryland, in collaboration with the World Bank Institute and USAID, held the first international workshop on e-leadership in June 2005. It indicated the urgent need for research into what was then a relatively unexplored area of the emerging knowledge economy.

The working paper sets out five basic models of e-leadership institutions, and adds, “There’s no single, ‘one size fits all,’ institutional solution. However, there are common principles that should work across most countries and economies in translating ICT [information and communications technology] into a powerful tool of development.”

These similarities are confirmed in a report by Kathryn Moyle, of the University of Canberra, and Ian Webb, of ACT Department of Education and Training. It says, “There are overlapping and interwoven themes in national, state and territory ICT school education policies; and Australia’s policies share similarities with comparable policies in the United States and United Kingdom.”

Around the world, countries – and regions have been taking up the challenge.

Throughout the European Union (EU) there have been indications that shortages are emerging in the complete range of skills relating to ICT – otherwise known as “e-skills.” The EU believes that opportunities for innovation have to be identified and exploited effectively for economies to grow and create jobs. This, in turn, demands relevant e-leadership skills.

These e-leadership skills are the skills to design business models, take advantage of innovation opportunities, make the best use of new technologies, and deliver value. They are the skills individuals require in the modern economy to initiate and achieve innovation.

So, the European Commission (EC) has been commissioning studies and launching initiatives designed to foster these e-skills. In particular, it’s trying to develop “e-leadership,” since recent research suggests that there is a significant shortage of such leaders in Europe.

Although there are no official statistics, the EC estimates that there were some 620,000 e-leaders operating in Europe in 2015. Sixty percent of these people come from companies’ business units, rather than from IT departments.

According to a working paper by empirica, there were 373,000 ICT-related vacancies in Europe in October 2015. The consultancy claims that the European labor market will grow by more than 670,000 new, ICT-related jobs in 2020, but it has the capacity – and desire – to absorb another 756,000 ICT professionals if they were available. Of these 756,000, there are 530,000 potential additional jobs in practitioner occupations and 226,000 at management level.

In other words, Europe requires up to 200,000 e-leaders by 2020 – or some 40,000 per year. Without further centrally orchestrated action, the EC believes that Europe will be unable to create them.

Should that be the case, the EC, as well as the EU member states, fears that Europe will not be competitive enough in world markets, and will lose out to other countries that have invested more successfully in developing their workforces’ e-leadership skills.

The EC acknowledges the need to keep the existing momentum going. Moreover, it is keen to scale up efforts to promote e-leadership skills. The aim is to provide Europe with a larger pool of highly-skilled entrepreneurs, managers and professionals.

So, building on previous efforts, an EC initiative – running from September 2015 to January 2017 – aims to develop an international agenda, for the period 2016 to 2020, to promote and encourage e-leadership.

It takes into account digital education and entrepreneurship policies. It also factors in labor market disruption by IT developments and integrating new analyses of leadership skills for professions such as accounting.

The initiative – being carried out by empirica, in cooperation with PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PwC), IDC Europe, and Carl Benedikt Frey and Thor Berger from the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University – aims to establish a working document on “European guidelines for curriculum development for e-leadership skills” as a contribution to the work of the CEN ICT Skills Workshop.

The EC says that the skills required for effective e-leadership are those that enable people with strong ICT skills to lead qualified staff from ICT and other disciplines toward identifying and designing business models and exploiting key innovation opportunities.

Consequently, its initiative aims to support the development of e-leadership skills through the development of quality criteria that evaluate the programs provided by higher educational institutions matched to curriculum profiles. Furthermore, the initiative then aims to demonstrate these at different business schools and universities throughout Europe. For further details of this initiative, visit http://eskills-guide.eu/documents/ or contact Werner B. Korte at empirica in Bonn, Germany.

The EC hopes that this will encourage the development of up-to-date educational offers able to increase the supply of experienced and highly qualified leaders in ICT-based innovation. It adds that, according to the e-leadership scoreboard, which correlates closely with gross domestic product (GDP) data as well as the Networked Readiness Index (NRI), countries such as Ireland, Belgium and the U.K. perform better on e-leadership maturity than is indicated by their economic and technology maturity.

Despite everyone’s best intentions back in 2005, there seems to be some inertia in providing programs to develop e-leaders, let alone bringing people into the workplace with these increasingly important skills,” says Iva Matasic, one of Croatia’s top business innovation and e-learning specialists. Iva, who runs the Consulio consultancy, is also a member of international e-learning think tank The Company of Thought.

“As yet, only eight EU member states have taken decisive initiatives on e-leadership education and training. Elsewhere, the extent and consistency of policy making is still limited. Moreover, most countries lack a master strategy and continuous attention to e-leadership in policy making.

The reasons for this are many – not least the lack of a country or region taking the lead in this e-skills race. However, it can only be a matter of time before that happens – to the short-term detriment of every other of the world’s economies.”

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