On September 14, the OECD, in co-operation with the Government of Uzbekistan and with the EU’s financial support, held the third and final meeting of the working group for the peer review of policies supporting digital skills for private sector competitiveness in Uzbekistan. The webinar was organised as part of the OECD Policy Component of the EU Central Asia Invest initiative and brought together the OECD, the EU and representatives of the public and private sector in Uzbekistan.
Mr Rustamkhon Azizov, Acting Deputy Director General of the Strategic Reforms Agency, opened the session by expressing the full support of the Government for the recommendations in the draft OECD peer review. He stressed that digitalisation is a powerful lever to address trade barriers and a landlocked positioning and further integrate Uzbekistan in the global economy. Within this digital transformation, Mr Azizov added that digital skills are a prerequisite to boost private sector competitiveness in Uzbekistan.
Ms Charlotte Adriaen, Ambassador of the European Union to Uzbekistan, shared her optimism to see the Government of Uzbekistan, the EU, and the OECD collaborate on such an important matter. She stressed that the OECD peer-review process is an important enabling tool, as it promotes experience sharing among peers and policy dialogue. Ms Adriaen emphasised that such initiatives cannot be done in a siloed manner and require follow-up objectives, KPIs, and monitoring.
To frame the importance of digital skills for SMEs within the digital transformation, Mr Marco Bianchini, Project Coordinator from the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities, presented the benefits and multi-faceted aspects of private sector digitalisation. He also touched upon OECD’s preliminary findings on digitalisation trends in Central Asia.
Ms Céleste Laporte Talamon, Policy Analyst in the OECD Eurasia Division, presented the OECD’s draft recommendations to support the uptake of digital skills in the private sector in Uzbekistan resulting from the previous working groups, fact-finding missions, private and public stakeholder inputs, and best practices from OECD countries and beyond. Supported by concrete examples of best practices from OECD countries, the recommendations will be submitted to the government for comment before their endorsement at ministerial level during OECD Eurasia Week 2022.
Mr. Jayaram Parthasarthy, Advisor to the CEO at the IT Park, presented existing digital upskilling initiatives within the IT Park. In particular, he highlighted the need to build a robust digital economy through an ecosystem: hard IT infrastructure must be accompanied by digital and complementary competencies and a start-up ecosystem to support SMEs. The IT Park strives to do so through its local and regional efforts such as the launch of training centres and the provision of hackathons, online courses, and consulting services to develop skills and careers throughout Uzbekistan.
To draw inspiration from a relevant regional case study, Ms Aruzhan Mede, Head of Business Development of BTS Education Kazakhstan presented the company’s work on identifying private sector skill needs in Kazakhstan. This identification constituted a launching pad from which the forecasting of future private sector labour market needs became possible, enabling stakeholders to determine which jobs will be in more demand, which ones will transform, and which ones will disappear entirely. In turn, educational institutions and training providers adapted their offerings to future needs. Ms Mede further talked about how Jumysbar, an e-commerce school specifically for SMEs which works with the Ministry of Trade and Integration and other public and private sector stakeholders in Kazakhstan, had educated over 2000 entrepreneurs to help them go online and augment their skills for free.
In a lively Q&A session, Ms Sasha Sternik, Expert at Women in Digital Transformation (WinDT), shared that there are effective programmes in place to digitally upskill the population of Uzbekistan, but noted that more attention could be paid to older strata of the population who frequently have very basic digital literacy levels. Mr Bianchini stated that the ecosystem approach notion as explained earlier by Mr Parthasarthy is one that is shared more and more throughout the OECD member countries, with universities reaching out to firms and vice versa to start a virtuous circle to learn about the labour market and adjust the educational system. Ms Mede and Mr Parthasarthy, respectively, showcased how in Kazakhstan and India organisations such as IT Parks work with specialists, universities, and large domestic and international firms to better understand employers’ skills needs.