A long-term strategy for skills development in the EO*GI sector

Over the past years, EO4GEO has prepared a Sector Skills Strategy for the Earth Observation and Geoinformation (EO*GI) sector defining not only a vision and mission, but also a set of goals and strategic objectives for skills development in the sector. In this article we want to explain these strategic objectives, and highlight some of the operational objectives and the actions that will be pursued over the coming years.

Several studies have been conducted that reveal that the EO*GI sector sees a healthy and sustainable annual growth of 10% (EARSC Industry Survey, 2019), and that developing a skilled workforce is key in achieving and consolidating this growth (see results of studies by EO4GEO, GEOBIZ and giCASES Erasmus+ projects). The EO*GI sector does not exist and evolve in isolation. The sector is by default linked to and intertwined with many other domains that influence each other: engineering, mathematics, physics, information science and many other fields, technologies and businesses (vertical sectorial activities such as maritime transport, insurance, agriculture, etc.) are very relevant and influence what happens in the sector.

Figure 1: The EO*GI Science & Technology domain (Vandenbroucke, 2020, based on diBiase, 2006)

Drivers and trends

The United Nations Global Geographic Information Management (UN-GGIM) initiative, , which brought together representatives of the geospatial and statistical communities from all countries across the world, identified five (5) major drivers and 31 related trends that impact the EO*GI sector, hence also influence the skills required. The five major trends relate to:

  1. The rise of new data sources and new analytical methods such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for processing the huge amounts of geospatial and other data coming from, among others: Copernicus (delivering TB of data every day, one of the biggest providers of EO data in the world), sensors that can nowadays be found everywhere, social media, etc.
  2. The development of new technologies and integration of existing technologies: these include the fact that devices are connected with each other through high-speed networks, new ways of computing such as High Performance Computing (HPC), etc.
  3. The continuous evolving user needs and their high expectations since they became part of this networked society. Users want to have instant access to data that are relevant for them, when they need it, but they also want to contribute to the debate, to take part in decision making, and they want to provide their ‘own’ information and insights.
  4. The emerging structural shift of industry and businesses: they become more and more automated, integrate new techniques and become almost all location-enabled.
  5. Finally all these developments occur within a changing legislative and governance environment: users not only demand more timely and relevant information, but they also raise issues related to data privacy and ethics, and they expect modernized governance and governments
Source: landpoint.net

These trends have of course a huge impact on the skills required by all the stakeholders involved: the EO*GI private sector providers in the first place, but also e.g. public sector bodies that use EO*GI data, and academia conducting research. General geoinformation handling skills remain key. Other skills-sets, related to the first one, are the analytical methods, the mapping techniques and cartography, and the programming & development skill sets. UN-GGIM also stresses the refocusing on and increased importance of skillsets related to data science and analytics, computer science, and data visualization. In particular, the use of AI and Machine Learning techniques for data analytics will become predominant, while also particular skills are required, e.g., the handling of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) for surveying.

Long-term strategy

Based on those developments and skills needs a set of five Strategic Objectives have been defined as well as a series of 15 Operational Objectives that provide an idea of what EO4GEO will do after the project ends. These are the five Strategic Objectives:

  1. Set up a skills intelligence mechanism to identify the skills and competences required and provide feedback on the evolving sector needs;
  2. Reinforce cooperation among stakeholders from the academic, private and public sectors on skills development and requirements;
  3. Develop a system to help and guide candidate learners in their skilling, upskilling and reskilling efforts;
  4. Facilitate and stimulate a more integrated approach on skills development across different value chains;
  5. Encourage citizens’ engagement, citizens’ science practices and hands on activities enhancing the inclusion/ recognition of EO/GI applications value in everyday aspects of life.

How does the strategy translate into practical actions?

Source: dreamstime.com

The EU wants to be able to offer timely and accurate information on skills and labour market developments in Member States countries, sectors and occupations, taking into account future developments. Therefore, the strategy aims to develop a kind of observatory to systematically monitor and assess the supply and demand for skills and related training initiatives to upskills and reskill people. Practically every two years supply and demand studies will take place, as well as a gap/mismatch assessment and an analysis of how the job market in the sector evolves. This will be supported by a Technology and non-Technology Trends Watch system, yet to be developed

There is also a need for better cooperation between public sector, academia and private sector to develop the right skills in the right time. All stakeholders of the EO*GI should speak the same language, understand the evolving needs in the same way … An up-to-date Body of Knowledge on EO*GI Science and Technology is the basis for defining this common language (maintained by a network of experts). Moreover, a common ecosystem of tools used by all will help to create a joint portfolio of curricula, training materials and a joint method for describing job offers, occupational profiles and more. The current ecosystem of tools will be further developed and complemented with new tools.

Source: abaralms.com

Currently there is also a fragmented and non-harmonized education and training offer that is difficult to find and access. EO4GEO has already developed a nice portfolio of training materials in different sub-sectors such as climate, smart cities … but more is to come. When the training offer becomes huge and the requests become variable and more specific, potential learners need a more personalized mechanism to define learning paths that cover particular needs. Therefore, the strategy foresees the development of a system to help and guide candidate learners in their skilling, upskilling and reskilling efforts through a one-stop portal (using semantic web techniques). Certification of training initiatives will be foreseen as well according to European standards.

The use and application of EO*GI data and technologies is still occurring mostly in ‘traditional’ markets, while a lot more opportunities exist. The strategy will develop offers for new markets and work together with the respective industries to upskill and reskill workforce in those new markets. These efforts might focus on e.g. young ICT professionals that want to specialize in EO*GI, or on professionals working in totally different fields such as tourism and cultural heritage, agriculture, real estate, facility management … learning for example about the application of geoAI, use of sensors, immersive visualization techniques in support of their current working activities

Source: thefinanser.com

Finally, the strategy wants to focus more on the individual citizens and user needs, looking for talent and stimulating their sense for initiative. Therefore, road shows and job fairs might be organized to be in touch with such potential talent and to meet interested professionals and youngsters. The strategy foresees to create an experimental platform where those people can meet, where there is a common learning environment and learning resources (data, tools, wiki …) are available to ‘play’ using among others gaming techniques. Part of these efforts will also include the development of real MOOC’s to reach out to a vast public, not only in Europe, but also beyond Europe since there is a clear demand from continents such as Africa, Latin-America and Asia.

The “Sectoral Skills Strategy in Action” will be officially released in the coming weeks and made available to the wider public.

Check-out regularly the EO4GEO web site to obtain it timely!

An innovative strategy for skills development and capacity building in the EO/GI field