Site icon ESSA

Tackling the Software Skills Gap with Lifelong Learning

One of the key objectives of ESSA (European Software Skills Alliance) is to offer the learning instruments to skill, upskill, and reskill individuals into high demand professional software roles across Europe.

What role can lifelong learning play in achieving this aim? Suzanne Galletly, Digital Skills Director at exam institute EXIN and member of the ESSA Advisory Board, shares some insights on what a lifelong learning mindset is, and how it can help in closing the software skills gap.

The Digital Skills Gap

In September 2023, the first State of the Digital Decade Report was published, taking stock of the EU’s progress against the Digital Decade targets for ensuring a successful digital transformation for people, businesses, and the environment. It was reported that 68% of all individuals have basic digital skills, against a target of 80% for 2030. This is up from 54% in 2021, indicating that progress is moving in the right direction to meet and perhaps even exceed this target. The number of ICT specialists employed, however, paints a less sunny picture, at 9.4 million compared to almost 9 million in 2021. With more than 10 million ICT specialists still needed to close the gap, the EU will have its work cut out to meet the expected labour demand in 2030. To close this gap, there will need to be a monumental effort to skill, upskill and reskill.

Figure 1: 2030 Digital Decade targets, source: 2023 Report on the state of the Digital Decade

Lifelong Learning

Developing a lifelong learning mindset can help in addressing these skilling challenges. But what is a lifelong learning mindset?

There are three elements of a lifelong learning mindset which are particularly relevant to highlight in the context of the digital skills gap challenge:

  1. Serial mastery.
  2. Building your personal brand and network.
  3. Owning your development journey.

Serial Mastery

A generation ago, it would have been sufficient to develop expertise in a specific area, and this would have stood you in good stead for the rest of your career. Those times are long gone by, and in today’s dynamic workforce, it is necessary to develop one area of expertise after the other, as new technologies and ways of working emerge. There is no area where this is more apparent than in the software domain. Many software professionals will have started off as experts in the Waterfall method of software development, working in traditional project teams with long planning horizons. In more recent years, they will have developed agile skills, to adapt to more responsive and flexible ways of working. Now, as Artificial Intelligence moves ever closer towards becoming a General Purpose Technology, many of these same software professionals will be securing their future relevance by developing expertise in AI. This process of developing new areas of expertise in sequence is known as serial mastery.

Building your personal brand and network

Whilst we are already preparing for the Economy 5.0, the Economy 4.0 which we find ourselves in right now is a collaborative economy, a sharing economy, a peer-to-peer economy, and a reputation economy. As such, it is more important than ever to build your own personal brand and network. Value is created by connecting and collaborating with others, in a high-trust environment. This is particularly so for software professionals, where agile ways of working based on co-creation and trust are increasingly the norm. Self-profiling and building a strong network of peers helps to foster trust, facilitate collaboration, and open partnership opportunities.

Owning your development journey

Part of a lifelong learning mindset is owning your development journey and showing curiosity to learn new things and continually develop, both professionally and personally. Perhaps there are no surprises that The Future of Jobs Report in 2023 indicated that employers saw ‘AI and big data’ as the 3rd most important skill for 2023-2027, showing a huge growth in ranking compared to the previous survey. (Note that this survey provides a global outlook, as opposed to Europe alone). But perhaps more surprising is the position of ‘Curiosity and lifelong learning’ as the 6th most important skill, proving that a lifelong learning mindset is now being recognized as a skill in its own right. Employers increasingly expect professionals to show a proactive approach towards their own learning and development. This movement towards self-driven learning partly reflects the shift towards providing more autonomy to workers at all levels of the organization.

 Figure 2: Important skills for 2023-2027, Source: The Future of Jobs Report 2023

How can developing a Lifelong Learning mindset help?

Developing a lifelong learning mindset can primarily help to close the software skills gap in two ways:


Reskilling is relevant if an individual wants to shift to a different role or career due to technological advancements, changes in job requirements, or other factors. A lifelong learning mindset helps people to stay open to change and embrace new work opportunities, in an ever-shifting labour landscape. This can help unemployed people to develop the new skills needed to kickstart a career in the software domain, as well as ensuring that women and other groups underrepresented in the tech domain, develop the skills needed to give them access to career opportunities in the software sector.


Upskilling is about enhancing and updating existing skills to keep up with changes in the workplace or industry and stay relevant. Upskilling is often seen as a way to increase productivity and competitiveness in the workforce. A lifelong learning mindset stimulates professionals to continually develop themselves so they remain up to date with industry changes and do not stagnate. This is particularly important in the software sector where technology is continually advancing, and serial mastery is required to keep pace. This contributes to a more innovative, skilled, and competitive workforce in Europe.

The ESSA learning instruments and resources can help to facilitate the skilling, reskilling, and upskilling of software professionals in the EU.

For more information on EXIN, please visit:


  1. Report on the State of the Digital Decade 2023, European Commission, September 2023
  2. Future of Jobs Report 2023, World Economic Forum, May 2023
  3. Learn or Lose, Nick van Dam, Nyenrode Publishing, 2016
  4. Eurostat:
Exit mobile version