eCF and SFIA: a Standardised Language for Digital Skills and Competencies

When talking about digital skills and competencies, standards like the European e-Competence Framework (eCF) or the global Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) help organisations to efficiently manage their hiring, information management, and upskilling processes.

Digital skills are the base layer of the information age. Given the rapid evolution of technology, it is crucial to use coherent and harmonised language when working with digital skills and competencies. Standards provide the key to this endeavour. Instead of using non-specific terms like “full-stack developer” standardised skills terminology allows for a more precise description of the desired features.

Here are two examples.

European e-Competence Framework (eCF)

In 2013, the European Commission acknowledged the problem of the lack of digital skills in the European Union and its implications on Europe’s digital objectives. Responding to this challenge and recognising the divergent nature of digital curricula and training materials, the European Commission created a coalition with the objective of developing a standard that can be used as the base for delivering and assessing digital skills.

As a result, the e-Competence Framework (eCF) was developed by CEN TC 428, where Small Business Standards (SBS) and European DIGITAL SME Alliance had a leading role and was adopted as European Standard in 2016. The eCF helps employers in providing a common language for describing digital competencies, skills, and knowledge. Thus, it can be used for the professional development of IT specialists all over Europe, while stimulating the mobility of employees and offering them tools to develop their careers. The benefits to organisations of all sizes and society include relying on professionals having an adequate level of digital knowledge and providing a higher level of products and services.

SBS and DIGITAL SME developed a guide and e-Lessons to help SMEs adopt the eCF as the standard for upgrading and assessing employees’ skills, implementing self-assessment and identifying digital competencies gaps, and building job profiles based on a common approved methodology for defining digital skills.

Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA)

While the eCF is a European standard, SFIA (pronounced “Sofia”) is used as a global frame of reference for professionals in ICT, digital transformation and software engineering. First published in 2000 by a consortium spearheaded by the British Computer Society (BCS), SFIA has been updated every three years since to reflect the evolving needs of international industry and business. The framework is now in its seventh edition and is used in over 180 countries around the world.

As a user-contributed collaboration, SFIA is kept up to date through a global open consultation process led by the industry for the industry. In addition to its worldwide acceptance and use, SFIA is available free of charge at sfia-online.org, making it especially useful for SMEs with limited resources.

A coherent language for skills in development

In the development context, standards like SFIA can enable governments to implement a market-based digital upskilling strategy for citizens and businesses alike. Using a harmonised and globally accepted language can help SMEs to internationalise their operations and find the right talent for their growth. The Institute of IT Professionals South Africa, the Computer Society of Sri Lanka, the Egypt Information Technology Institute, and the Computer Society Zimbabwe are among the numerous professional associations that use SFIA around the globe.

To sum up, both eCF and SFIA provide a coherent framework of standardised language to describe skills in the ICT, digitalisation, and software engineering fields. Using either framework can help planning, hiring, and scaling-up efforts on all levels of organisation from entities like the European Union to digital SMEs across the globe.

Learn more about the eCF here and SFIA here, give them a try and boost your organisations’ skills level!


This article was developed in the context of #skills4prosperity, a joint campaign by UNIDO‘s Learning and Knowledge Development Facility and the European DIGITAL SME Alliance.