Turning the Coronavirus Challenges into Opportunities

FROM: Olesea Vieru , Elene Tkhlashidze , Artak Harutyunyan , Zenebe B. Uraguchi – 05. April 2020

While the coronavirus pandemic presents business risks in some areas, it also offers opportunities in others. One promising opportunity is the digital economy. With the current coronavirus pandemic, the digital economy needs to adapt better and faster. This is more prominent in how skills development takes place in the Information and communication technology (ICT) sector. The Moldovan ICT sector is highly export-oriented that requires a supply of skilled human resources. Enterprises that invest in their digital strategy, while balancing short-term efforts with long-term measures, will emerge from this pandemic more competitive. Adaption to the current crisis and ensuring continuity and quality, therefore, is strategic and long-term in the area of labor markets for countries like Moldova.

********

Doom and gloom have dominated headlines in the weeks since the outbreak and spread of the coronavirus. Nothing changes the fact that the pandemic is a major crisis with big negative impacts. Yet, one bright spot is how the pandemic accelerates the pace of the digital transformation.

A significant disruption of the pandemic has occurred in the provision of IT-based education, training and mobility opportunities for learners and training providers. The crisis has caught the education system unprepared, and training institutions that understand the required change are adapting as fast as they can. This includes non-formal private training providers, who until recently were mostly focused on in-class delivery; they are now moving to adapt their courses so that participants can continue benefiting from the training. 

The Moldovan ICT sector is highly export-oriented. There are increased demands of digital services and therefore the sector is experiencing transformation in different areas, one of which is skills development.

How are Moldovan companies, which are more competitive in outsourcing markets, responding to the current challenge of ensuring continuity and quality in skills development?

ICT: accelerated disruption?

Even before the current coronavirus pandemic, the ICT sector has been under increasing disruption and transformation. From the dot-com bust to the 2008 financial crisis, disruptions have followed the sector. So, it fair to say that the disruption isn’t that much new.

However, in a highly digitalized world, there is an urgency for better adaptation in skills development. Digital technologies are fundamentally changing the way individuals access and use knowledge. Even a short period of discontinuity in training and hiring of people in the ICT sector will be damaging to the whole sector.  

Moldovan private enterprises have for long been struggling to fill in open positions with IT specialists. The demand for services has increased, but the measures to address the supply of skills aren’t enough, which could ultimately lead towards the loss of the competitive position of Moldovan ICT in the region.

The accelerated disruption in ICT skills development happens in three ways.

First, it’s about ensuring connecting trainers and learners with each other when in separate locations. Second, it’s about accessing information in conditions that aren’t usually available in every home or institution. Third and equally important is also supporting the continued professional development of trainers and learners where there is a need to catch up with the everchanging ICT skills.

Making matter worse, even before the coronavirus pandemic, the number of relevant graduates from Moldovan Universities hasn’t been sufficient to satisfy the increasing demand for a skilled workforce. Moreover, the biggest part of graduates isn’t employable right after graduation due to the outdated curricula of educational institutions. Worsening the challenge, global demand for IT professionals makes it more and more difficult for the ICT sector to retain the talent in the country.

Adaption and ensuring continuity, therefore, is strategic and long-term in the area of labor markets in Moldova. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing many companies in tourism, advertising, education and other sectors in Moldova to layoff employees. While those who lost their jobs are waiting to go back to work, or if the layoff is permanent, gaining new skills in the ICT sector is one possible solution for developing a new profession and source of livelihoods.   

Making adaptation work better and sustainably

To minimize the disruption, educational institutions in Moldova are making attempts to switch to the online mode of operations - be it live real-time sessions or other e-learning solutions. This is where the OPTIM project of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)[1] supports IT businesses.

OPTIM and IT businesses have two key objectives in mind. The first and immediate one is to ensure continuity in skills development provision. The other issue is tackling the quality of skills development. Having only live-online sessions may not be enough to keep training programs running in the short- and mid-term since course content also needs to be digitized and teaching processes adapted to ensure the quality of delivery. Without a good system put in place, participants may be reluctant to pay for courses in the future and the school may go out of business. 

Iucosoft is a company that provides consultancy programming services to local companies. At the same time, Iucosoft sells Java training to people interested in a programming career. A large part of the revenues of Iucosoft depends on the sales of training. In 2019, Iucosoft started extending its training to the second-largest city in Moldova Balti, where no one was offering Java training.

At the early stage of the coronavirus pandemic, Iucosoft was training 40 participants in Java. With the increased restriction of mobility due to the pandemic, Iucosoft had to move fast, both to ensure its services to young women and men continue and to prevent a loss of significant revenues.

As the first step, Iucosoft has installed all necessary software on each student’s computer, so that students can participate in the course and fulfill the practical assignment. The ability to fulfill practical assignments in real-time is an essential part of the value offer of Iucosoft. The added value of OPTIM has been in the adaptation of its support to Iucosoft according to the changes. Iucosoft approached OPTIM with the idea to shift the support to the development of an online platform, instead of waiting for the movement to be allowed and traveling to the region again.  

Through the online conferencing software Zoom, Iucosoft gets the group together and instructs students in real-time, ensuring feedback, which is important for those who are beginners in programming. To have classroom experience and bring the participants together, Iucosoft uses Facebook private groups, where participants interact, share concerns, place questions, and get instant feedback from the instructors. Online delivery needs to create a minimum comfort level throughout the program.

‘It hasn’t been a walk in the park’, says Iurii Coropceanu, Director of Iucosoft. ‘For us, the current coronavirus pandemic is a key lesson of how crises are increasingly changing the rules of the game in education and training’. For Iurii, even after the current pandemic is over, it’s important to improve the way skills development is done in the ICT sector. He stresses that ‘instead of demo lessons, we’re planning to do free webinars. We cannot stop our operations and wait for the crisis to end; we have to attract new groups of students now. To be able to bring the value to our customers, we must help them experience the training, and the option for that is a series of demo lessons that we have already launched.’ 

The pilots through Zoom and Facebook have shown to Iurii that online training is possible. Therefore, Iucosoft is investing in its own e-learning space where the process will be less disrupted, where the materials can be securely accumulated and stored and will offer a more professional and convenient experience to Java students.

So far, the reaction from students is positive. ‘Learning from home is great. I don't have to travel, it’s easy and saves me time,’ says Vitalie Moscalciuc, 18, a Java trainee at Iucosoft. Viorica Moldovanu, a trainer, also sees the convenience of online training. ‘I live in the village of Heciul Vechi, which is 20 km away from Balti, and before I had to travel to work every morning. Now, I can work from home’, adds an excited Viorica.

Conclusion

With the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, digital technologies have become more crucial than ever before. This has a drastic effect on the way organizations interact with their staff, businesses, suppliers, and customers. Most businesses and people are now working in a virtual office environment, also known as a home office.

Enterprises that invest in their digital strategy, while balancing short-term efforts with long-term measures, will emerge from this pandemic more competitive. One area that is promising is new solutions for education that could bring much-needed innovation. This could be a catalyst for educational institutions in Moldova and other countries to search for innovative solutions in a relatively short time in particular for sectors like ICT where the lack or mismatch of skills is a serious one.

Related readings

 

 

[1] Implemented by Helvetas together with the Moldovan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) and Mesopartner.

Olesea Vieru is a business development professional with prior experience in ICT sector and development cooperation. She is currently leading the ICT component at the Optim project in Moldova.
Elene Tkhlashidze is an economic development practitioner, currently leading the programmatic areas at the OPTIM project in Moldova.
Artak Harutyunyan is a development professional with more than 20 years of international experience. He is currently leading the OPTIM project in Moldova.
Programme Coordinator, East and Southeast Europe, Senior Advisor, Sustainable & Inclusive Economies