The WISE (Work Integration Social Enterprises) sector in Europe provides training and job opportunities to groups at risk of social exclusion, including persons with disabilities. To deliver this task, WISEs aims to develop the professional skills of their members to address the needs of the target groups they address. To this end, the development of technology including assistive technology, and of digital skills is of utmost importance both for the professional development of the WISEs’ staff but for the delivery of the services to their clients.
The report, compiled by EASPD, provides an in-depth analysis of the skill requirements of the workforce involved in the WISEs as well as identifies potential gaps between the skills available and those required by the sector to be able to deliver their tasks. It is based on the experience from WISEs operating in several EU Member states (BE, PL, IT, FI, LT, RO, UK) and having different organisational, legal and fiscal frameworks. It illustrates this diversity by describing the specificities of those frameworks in the Member States involved. It transpires that whilst in some countries, mostly those in Western Europe, there is a wide selection of WISEs covering different activities, benefiting from funding and collaborating with the public authorities, the sector remains underdeveloped in Central and Eastern European countries.
As highlighted in examples from the Member States covered by the report, while access to technology is creating new opportunities of social integration for persons with disabilities and groups at risk of exclusion, it can also raise new barriers and risks of exclusion for the above-mentioned groups due to:
- High costs and insufficient funding
- Lack of information on the existing digital technologies
- Lack of knowledge and skills on how to use digital devices in the WISE environment
- Insufficient training adapted to the needs of the WISE sector.
With regards to the staff working in the WISEs whose background is mostly in social care or education, the majority of them do not consider digital literacy as social skills when involved in the training and coaching into work of persons with disabilities or at risk of exclusion. When it comes to the management level of the WISEs, however, they associate technology and digitalisation with increased productivity and innovation.
The report argues that the way forward requires several strategies to be put in place to tackle digital skill gaps in the WISEs, including:
- Multi-stakeholder partnerships between the WISEs and other VET providers.
- Awareness-raising campaigns demonstrating the added value of digital skill in the sector for persons with disabilities.
- Easing access to funding for accessing digital technologies.
- Providing training (both on-the-job and external training) to keep pace with technological development and address the digital skills gap.
It concluded by issuing a number of recommendations addressing the challenges faced by the management, the staff and those benefitting from the WISEs support.