Behind the Scenes of DigiAdvance: Interview with Dr Daniel Franco (Autonomous University of Barcelona)

Welcome to our series of 1:1 interviews with the team behind DigiAdvance. Today we are lucky to be joined by Dr. Daniel Franco Puntes, Associate Professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, to dive into our Skills Mapping Tool that we’ve just launched and the share more of how we are building our 40+ courses to address them.

This Skills Mapping Tool is part of our research being conducted by the University of Aveiro (UA), together with the University Autonoma of Barcelona (UAB) and Dublin City University (DCU), to discern what would be required to improve the advanced digital skills of SME employees in Europe. The survey itself has been put together by the University of Aveiro’s Labour Observatory team (which we will find out more about below!).

Dr. Daniel Franco, former Dean of the Engineering School at the University Autonoma of Barcelona (UAB), is an esteemed associate professor in Computer Architecture and Operating Systems. With a PhD from UAB, he’s renowned for innovative teaching methods and impactful research in Parallel Computing and Computer Architecture. Dr. Franco has supervised numerous doctoral theses, collaborated extensively with industry, and holds a registered patent. He’s committed to fostering entrepreneurship and innovation through initiatives like the AI4ALL program and is actively involved in European research projects.

Hello Daniel, thank you for joining us today! With UAB’s extensive experience in teaching digital technologies and its background in entrepreneurship through programs like UAB Emprèn, how will the university leverage its expertise to create engaging and effective courses for the DigiAdvance project?

UAB will use its expertise on short courses about digital technologies to develop effective courses for SMEs leaders and employees. UAB has several past experiences that enhances DigiAdvance’s course design. First, UAB has participated in a pioneer initiative led by the National Occupational Service and the Department of Universities to create short courses about digital technologies for unemployed and employed people. Secondly, we are actively participating in an entrepreneurship programme, called UAB Emprèn, funded by the university and the Catalan government to develop entrepreneurship among SMEs introducing deep tech.  

Thank you! Could you elaborate on UAB’s role in the development of tailored training programmes within the DigiAdvance project, particularly focusing on how these programmes will address the specific needs of SME owners, managers, and employees?

UAB will develop DigiAdvance’s courses by using an array of resources, including field study and research data collected by DigiAdvance’s work package 2 (WP2), together with its expertise on lifelong learners’ courses, as well as its experience delivering bachelors, master and PhD programmes on digital technologies. In addition, we will draw on UAB’s Research Park, which is the technology transfer and business development unit in contact with industry and local public and private organizations, especially SMEs, allowing the university to understand the needs and current problems of SMEs.

As a partner in the DigiAdvance project, UAB is involved in utilizing the Skills Mapping Tool survey to gather insights on digital skills needs among SME employers and employees. Can you share any initial observations or trends that have emerged from the survey data so far?

From the survey, we can see that SMEs are worried about the impact of digital technologies in their businesses. They have heard about these topics, but they aren’t able to use them currently, and are worried about losing productivity in front of competitors if they don’t start to use these novel technologies.

From the survey, we can see that SMEs are worried about the impact of digital technologies in their businesses.
Dr. Daniel Franco Puntes
Autonomous University of Barcelona

How will DigiAdvance use the results of this survey in the project? How will the data inform the development of its courses?

From the survey, we will have a set of competences and learning outcomes pointed out by SMEs that they think are important and/or needed today or in the near future. From these sets of competences, we will develop coherent content for each course to deliver the expected learning outcomes. UAB’s experience designing and delivering all kinds of training (official bachelor, master and PhD programmes, but also lifelong learners courses, Coursera MOOCs etc.) ensures the success of our proposals. Also, from the survey we will collect participants’ preferences (course duration, mode of teaching, etc.) and principal barriers to accessing training (no time availability, no access to proper tools, financial difficulties, etc.). Considering all this information, we develop courses adapted to their needs.

What is UAB’s overarching objective when designing courses for the DigiAdvance project, and how does the university ensure that these courses are relevant, up-to-date, and beneficial for participants?

The main objective of designing these courses is to offer useful training to SMEs. We are aware of SMEs’ difficulties in accessing deep technology in terms of financial or availability barriers. For this reason, we design practical and tool-oriented courses so that the participants can learn how to use technological tools and start to develop these from the beginning. We propose practical labs in the courses where we encourage participants to bring their own case study (i.e. their own datasets, practical environment, etc.) so that they can develop the practical task adapted to their needs. At an institutional level, UAB has a course design methodology and an internal quality assurance system that is used to design DigiAdvance courses.

Looking towards the future, what types of courses is UAB planning to develop within the realm of cybersecurity or other digital technologies, considering the evolving needs of the workforce and industry demands?

Thinking about the future, and aiming to make our trainings long lasting, we leverage UAB’s expertise in related research areas (cybersecurity, cloud computing, big data, artificial intelligence, blockchain, web development) in order to offer basic principles to understand core ideas, and to offer lasting tools to put into practice these technologies – today and in the future.

Ready to see how your SME measures up? Take part in our 10-minute Skills Mapping Tool to see how your team’s digital skills measure up to other SMEs in Europe, and simultaneously have your say in shaping the future of our courses. Participate here.