Looking into the demand for education and training in the space and geospatial fields.

“Future is about what you can do, not about what you cannot do” — Dr John Wilson (UCGIS — EO4GEO workshop on Demand for space/geospatial skills)

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Photo by G. Crescoli on Unsplash

In order to know what you are missing, you need to be sure of what you need. What professional profile am I looking for? What degree of expertise is required for the job? What makes an expert an expert?

Answers to these questions will differ depending on the sector: a small enterprise will not be looking for the same expertise as a large company, whose requirements will be different than those expressed by a public administration — be it at national, regional or local level. Moreover, the demand for skills will vary depending from the thematic area of application, the technology, and the time — the situation today will not be the same in ten years time.

Given these variables, what can we say about the supply of education and training in the space/geospatial sector and the demand for skills related to Earth Observation (EO) and Geoinformatics (GI)?

This is precisely what the EO4GEO Sector Skills Alliance is tackling: since it kicked off, in January 2018, 26 partners from 13 European Member States have been looking into the skills shortage in the space and geospatial fields in order to find ways to bridge the gap.

A first step towards this is intelligence gathering: if you provide education and training in Earth Observation (EO) and/or Geoinformatics (GI), or if your job vacancies ask for related skills and competences, you can use EO4GEO to share your experience. It will serve as a basis for the EO4GEO Sectoral Skills Strategy due in Spring 2019.

A preliminary analysis of the first 120 respondents to the survey on the demand for space/geospatial education and training was carried out on May 30–31, 2018 at the University of Jaume (UJI), Castellón, Spain. Enlightening talks, breakout sessions fostering active participation, individual presentations on the project’s progress, as well as panel debates composed of different sector representatives were the formats chosen to exchange viewpoints on the demands for GI/EO skills, today and against potential future scenarios.

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Group picture of workshop participants

You can download the full report of the workshop, which includes a comprehensive summary of the three-day workshop as well as the presentations and some pictures.

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Michael Gould (ESRI) during his presentation

Michael Gould has been teaching and researching in Spain since 1994, when he finalised his PhD in Geospatial Information Sciences (GIS). He is currently Global Education Manager at ESRI, a company pioneering problem-solving using GIS. Since 2009, he supports projects in collaboration with universities and with 84 ESRI offices around the world.

Michael has something to say when it comes to skills in the geospatial sector, and he brought to the workshop the views of a big GI company. Younggraduates have thousands of course hours, theoretical and practical, but often lack the practical experience that companies are looking for: the capacity to solve problems in real world scenarios.

The 10.000 Hour Rule (Malcolm Gladwell, 2008), claiming that practising any skill for 10,000 hours is sufficient to make you an expert, might not be the only path to success. Josh Kaufman’s TED Talk shifts the terms of the question and looks into what are the minimum hours needed to make you fit for the purpose?

“A smart person (social skills) with 20-hours of focused training might be more valuable to an enterprise or an organisation, than one with thousands of theory hours”

When it comes to designing CVs for the next generation of EO/GI experts, Michael suggests to look into a data-oriented curriculum. Data (pre-)processing is paramount these days: knowing how to search, clean, understand and create data can take up to 80% of a worker’s time, but this capacity is very rare in freshly graduated students as they have only been confronted to clean data. Cost-benefit analysis from the point of view of the recruiter should be kept in mind when designing the curricula of the future space and geospatial graduates.

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Steven Ramage (GEO) during his presentation

When it comes to engaging with stakeholders at global level in the field of Earth Observations, your mind goes to Steven Ramage, Head of External Relations for the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO). Working internationally with many of the GEO government and partner members, and leading private sector engagement at GEO provides Steven with a bird-eye view on the field of Earth Observations while providing EO4GEO with precious insights on the link between science, policy-development and decision-making. His feet remain well rooted in the fields of education and training as Steven teaches and gives lectures at the Institute for Future Cities (University of Strathclyde), the Urban Big Data Centre (University of Glasgow) and the Institute for Environmental Sustainability (University of Geneva).

Global challenges are local, Steven argued. Events happening around the world have local impact on supply chains, climate change (or climate chance?), to name a few. Understanding Earth processes allows us to predict and, consequently, make sound decisions, establishing the nexus between Science and Policy. Hence, in order to tackle global problems at local level, emphasis should be put on human interoperability and the actual relevance of soft skills, despite they are hard to acquire.

EO4GEO invites experts to give their inputs on the skills shortages in the EO and GI sectors in Europe
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Prof. John Wilson (UCGIS) explaining the GIS&T Body of Knowledge (BoK)

Learning from others depends from our ability to integrate own and others’ experiences. Those who work on improving skills transfer cannot bypass what others have been doing on the subject. In this sense, the American experience in building a Body of Knowledge (BoK) as the basis for curriculum design was featured by Prof. John Wilson (UCGIS), who highlighted the potentialities and challenges of community participation in building the BoK.

How can you motivate an expert community to volunteer in the development of a Body of Knowledge? Acknowledge contributors is crucial, such as in the peer reviews. In this vein, different strategies can be implemented: making the BoK accessible and transparent; broadening the contributing user-base; including a peer revision system; and linking the work with Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) in order to form a persistent link to publications — a key assessment indicator for academics.

John also mentioned the importance and positive impact a Certification program for GI professionals could have. In the United States there is “GISP — Certified Geographic Information systems professionals” certification which ensures the applicant’s background in Ethics, Education, Experience, and Contributions to the Profession.

In this sense, the efforts made by the EO4GEO Sector Skills Alliance to closely work with the European Classification for Occupations, skills and qualifications (ESCO) and roll-out the Sector Skills Strategy at national and regional level will be an important part of the efforts to empower the new generation of space data users.

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Barbara Hofer (PLUS) presenting the first outcomes of the EO4GEO survey on demand for EO/GI skills

Here are some insights on the preliminary results of the survey on the demand for EO/GI skills:

  • they are based on some 120 responses from 23 countries received until May 22, 2018;
  • they show that mostly employees with a master or PhD degree are needed in organisations;
  • in detail 53% of the specified profiles require a master degree and 34% of profiles a PhD degree.
  • The labels of the specified profiles indicate that highly specialised workers in the EO/GI sector are demanded: e.g., remote sensing technician, GIS developer, remote sensing expert, data Analyst and scientist, EO/GI applications developer, GIS analyst, etc.
  • The use of these labels is heterogeneous in regards of the skills indicated as important for the profiles and further analyses are required to identify high priority profiles based on the available relevance ratings of skills.

In addition to the overview on the EO/GI related skills requested on the market, survey results concerning transversal skills and training in organisations were presented.

The most frequently requested transversal skills are:

  1. has independent and proactive working attitude
  2. is motivated to enter new thematic fields
  3. has foreign language skills.
  • Skills referring to entrepreneurial skills were among the least requested ones. This is clearly due to the bias related to the profile of the survey respondents.
  • Training is widespread across all types of organisations with the most common types of training being in-house training, external workshops and distance learning.

These first insights gained on the demand of EO/GI workforce provided the input for the discussions in the breakout groups as for example the absence of occupational profiles for workforce with vocational training, the specific nature of training measures in organisations as well as emerging future workforce demands.

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

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