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EO4GEO – facilitating capacity building in space geoinformation sector

In a recent press release of June 18, 2018, the EC has proposed to devote €16 billion to help maintain and further enhance the EU’s leadership in space between 2021-2027. Copernicus, the EU’s Earth Observation programme, will receive €5.8 billion. Space technology, data, and services have become indispensable in the daily lives of Europeans and play an essential role in preserving many strategic interests. The budget proposal builds on the Space Strategy for Europe of October 2016 and on the Industrial Policy Strategy presented by President Juncker in his 2017 State of the Union address. They are both a strategic vision for a smart, innovative and sustainable industry in response to growing global competition and major technological shifts.

It proves that Space is a key asset for Europe and has a growing importance for innovation in the European economy. To foster a globally competitive European space sector and ensure European autonomy in accessing and using space in a safe and secure environment, it is necessary to stimulate the integration of space into European economy and society. At the same time, the global space industry is experiencing profound developments due to new technologies and innovations. One of the main challenges for the sustainability of the European space industrial fabric and the delivery of cutting-edge scientific achievements is to maintain highly qualified scientists, engineers, and technicians including their lifelong learning. Recent EU projects and the study “Space market uptake in Europe” emphasized the fact that a lack of specialized skills in the EO/geospatial sector could be a barrier for the Copernicus space data market’s development. The EC’s Blueprint for cooperation on skills in the space data (geoinformation) sector (2017) aims at meeting these challenges. Following the EU Space strategy [COM 705 final], the Commission has launched, as part of the New Skills Agenda for Europe, a dedicated sector skills alliance for space/Earth observation gathering key stakeholders from industry, research, universities and public authorities to tackle new skills requirements in the sector. To this end, the Commission will strengthen activities and projects to promote space in education and sciences. In the longer term, the Commission will encourage the uptake of space solutions through standardization measures and roadmaps so that to open up space to non-space entrants and non-space industries.

General societal/technical trends

Following O’Sullivan et a al. (2018) the existing interdependence of data economy and the GI/EO sector are based on a variety of aspects. The key drivers of change in the data economy impacting the EO market include:

-Rise of the platforms: leveraging cloud computing infrastructure and stimulating applications development.

-Data as a Service: user manages the application, everything else is delivered as a service.

-Open data policies: demand from users and government policies changing towards improved access to data and tools.

-New business models: people can easily gain access to and use a multitude of data analysis services quickly.

-Sensor use growing: IoT and sensors intelligently working at the edge of networks, the complementarity of spaceborne and terrestrial data.

-Crowdsourcing: citizen science platforms and their commercial capability.

-Disruptive innovation: introduces a new value proposition. They either create new markets or reshape existing ones.

The evolution of the market shows the following trends: more commercial satellites will be launched (over 400 satellites from 35 countries), including lots small satellites using COTS components, over 50 countries investing in Earth observation technology with environmental monitoring, food security and climate change are global top political priorities; the market for commercial EO data will rise until 2025 to over $3 billion, for value-added services to $5,3 billion, in particular, the Asian market, as well as African strong growth (ibid.).

“EO development is closely linked to the worldwide digitalization of our societies, with an endless appetite for information, increasing number of data sources and need for interoperability, finance and economics, interconnected ecosystems (governments, industry, commerce) and last but not least security issues, national prestige, and soft power. “ (Denis et al. 2017, p 424)

In the communication on “Rethinking education” [COM 669 final], the European Commission stresses that investment in education and training for skills development is essential to boost growth and competitiveness. In the long-term, skills can trigger innovation and growth, move production up the value chain, stimulate the concentration of higher level skills in the EU and shape the future labor market. And it concludes that the skills mismatches are a growing concern for European industry’s competitiveness.

Copernicus workforce future scenarios

The Space sector in Europe has been boosted by the Copernicus programme, bringing significant socio-economic and environmental benefits to the public sector, businesses, and citizens. For the maximization of the impact of Copernicus effective user uptake activities are required. The provision of free, open and full-access to Copernicus data & information certainly is a paradigm change, but can only have an impact if the potential benefit in thematic and economic terms has been communicated and understood.

The evolution of Copernicus services – an improvement of Core Services and the development of Downstream Services in particular – requires the continuous innovative input and constructive feedback from academia. Service provision remains the domain of industry; research and development for innovation and adaptation to meet user requirements originates predominantly from academic institutions. Embedded in local networks, universities and research organizations are often the first point-of-contact for local and regional administrations or institutions needing solutions tailored to their specific workflows. The vision of a Copernicus ‘ecosystem’ entails technology transfer, translating between space-based information technology and local needs, and build on the existing capacity. For Copernicus to make an impact and to run on a sustainable level, requires, a demand & service culture to be built between all actors involved.

Stakeholders in this context comprise the EC, the European Entrusted Entities, numerous large companies from the EO domain, national delegates, national EO institutions, universities as well as national to local authorities, NGOs, initiatives, and SMEs dealing with EO data and geoinformation.

From our perspective, the ultimate aim is to facilitate the emergence of a new generation of young scientists and technicians with a service-oriented entrepreneurial mindset, who are exposed to the best practices in EO/Copernicus related research and advanced technologies. All Copernicus-related activities are to be designed to inspire and motivate next generation of scientists and technologists, as well as to catalyze the development of an entrepreneurial culture among researchers in the Copernicus space application sector.

The EO4GEO mission

EO4GEO is an Erasmus+ Sector Skills Alliance gathering 26 partners from 12 countries from academia, private and public sector activity in the education/training and space/geospatial sectors. EO4GEO aims to help to bridge the skills gap between supply and demand of education and training in space/geospatial sector by reinforcing the existing ecosystem and fostering the uptake and integration of space/geospatial data and services in end-user applications. The project will define a long-term and sustainable strategy to fill the gap between the supply of and demand for space/geospatial education and training. The strategy will be implemented by: creating and maintaining an ontology-based Body of Knowledge for the space/geospatial sector based on previous efforts; developing and integrating a dynamic collaborative platform with associated tools; designing and developing a series of curricula and a rich portfolio of training modules directly usable in the context of Copernicus and other relevant programs.

The EO4GEO consortium believes that by working together with all the relevant partners, the alliance can help to bridge and resolve the observed gaps and mismatches. By doing so, the uptake of Copernicus data and services, as well as geospatial data, will be stimulated in various fields through a more systematic, qualitative and innovative training offer.

Demand survey – first insights

A survey currently carried out by EO4GEO on demand on skills and occupation requirements. This so-called demand survey aims at retrieving information about the skills and tasks relevant in organizations as well as demanded occupational profiles. The description of occupational profiles based on a rating of relevant skills sets is one of the core objectives of the survey.

The preliminary results, which are based on about 120 responses from more than countries received until May 2018, showed that most employees with a master or Ph.D. degree are needed in organizations. This finding is backed up by interviews carried out by representatives from SMEs and industry. The labels of the specified profiles indicate that highly specialized 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 with regards to 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 organizations were presented. The most frequently requested transversal skills are: 1) has independent and proactive working attitude; 2) is motivated to enter new thematic fields and 3) has foreign language skills. Skills referring to entrepreneurial skills were among the least requested ones. Training is widespread across all types of organizations 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 are currently further analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively, while at this stage it highlights the absence of occupational profiles for the workforce with vocational training, the specific nature of training measures in organizations as well as emerging future workforce demands.

The observation that respondents stressed their preference for academics may also be attributed to the fact that a skilled worker on lower EQF levels is currently absent. As a vision, trans-level Copernicus education may take place leading to an emerging workforce with adapted Copernicus skills profile. Thus, the gap between the demand and the current offer can be overcome, expected profiles of the future workforce better matched and diversified, and new skills achieved by an innovative training and educational programmes.