In Europe, the Digital Agenda is important driver of sustainable growth. Employment creation are having significant growth in the last decade, supported by digital technologies, but there is a gap between labour market demand and educational sector when it comes to qualified specialists.

In according to the 2018 World Economic Forum, the increasing speed of technological advancements will require at least 54% of employees to upskill or replace their competencies. A lot of movement is transpiring in the fields of automation and artificial intelligence (source: Because of the rapid adaptation of new technologies, new growth in the ICT industry and the availability of big data will have a significant impact across all sectors, depending on digitalization and automatization. If the trend continues, many workers will have outdated skills and be unable to serve the needs of their workplace, thus pushing them toward unemployment. the latest World Bank STEP Household and Employer Survey in Kosovo shows that companies find it difficult to employ qualified individuals due to the lack of experience of job market entrants and the low level of education (source: ). Three out of four firms that attempted to fill a higher skill position, and three out of five firms that sought to fill a medium to lower skill position, encountered problems because of applicants’ lack of skills and/or experience. That is why the need for skills gap analysis has become imperative for understanding the needs of the sector and which skill gaps need to be addressed.

While the skill gap in any industry poses issues for economic development, the skill gap in the IT sector is especially important to be analyzed because of the growing role this sector is playing in the economic growth of a country. Therefore, the future economy requires an approach that puts human capital at its core (Puckett et al., 2020).

The EU’s strategy for the Western Balkans includes a number of initiatives and programs, such as the EU-Western Balkans Innovation Fund, the EU-Western Balkans Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility, and the EU-Western Balkans Regional Research and Innovation Cooperation Program, that are designed to foster innovation, entrepreneurship, and research and development in the Western Balkans. The strategy emphasizes the importance of reforms in areas such as rule of law, public administration, and the economy, as well as the need for greater regional cooperation and dialogue. Another important EU strategy is the Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF), which aims to support economic development and integration in the Western Balkans. The WBIF provides funding for projects that promote private sector development and support the modernization of public services, including in the field of education.

The accelerated application of software in all spheres of life and economy creates a continuous need for an increasing number of programmers and related professions (IT experts) on the labor market of B&H and Kosovo. This need creates a large imbalance between supply and demand for IT experts. The labor market of WB currently lacks a large number of IT experts, who would fill the newly opened job

According to the data collected in the study: Bosnia and Herzegovina Software Industry Skills Needs  Assessment 2019); carried out as part of the project: The Economic Governance for Growth (EGG) Project, implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) with the financial support of the Government of the Kingdom of Norway, from an average 926 open positions for IT specialists on an
annual basis, 388 of them cannot be filled. In most cases, the reason given is the lack of candidates with the appropriate knowledge and skills. It is also stated that one of the measures to overcome the current situation involves the creation of retraining and retraining programs in the field of IT.

A large number of graduate students officially have certain knowledge and competences after completing their studies, but not applicable in practice. The mismatch between the needs of the labour market and the education system is more of a reason for the still high unemployment rates in the Western Balkans. Outdated jobs and study programs are the reason for the high unemployment rate among the highly educated. The main reason for conducting this project is to reduce the gap and educate professionals with competencies related with modern digital technologies, from software development to: development of games, animations, artificial intelligence, business analytics, digital marketing, etc. New courses are one way to overcome this mismatch as painlessly as possible. That is why employers do not have adequate staff to hire. The introduction of these programs is a way to solve the mismatch between the labour market and the education system and to meet the needs of employers for deficit occupations.

The overall goal of the WBNET project is to introduce short study programs in the higher education institutions (HEIs) of the Western Balkans (WB), through the establishment of the Centres for Short Study Programs, on 4 universities in the region West Balkan. That means that project is directly in line with a Digital Strategy. The project’s main contribution to the priorities of the call is its focus on building capacity and raising the quality of education in the light of employability. The proposed project is in line with the Regional Priority ’’Digital transformation’’ and ’’Sustainable growth and jobs’’ for the Region 1 (Western Balkan) and to the call ’’Capacity Building in the field of Higher Education: Strand 2’’.

The faculty, when it receives information that a certain profile is missing, needs at least five years to accredit a certain study program. These short programs will shorten that time and in a way are a “shortcut” to matching the needs of the market and the education system. Also, It is important to note that enrollment quotas at higher education institutions do not follow market demand, i.e. they cannotmeet the current and future needs of the software industry.

Short study programs will be designed to connect the education system and the labour market. This implies that faculties will offer short study programs to the market and establish closer contact with companies. The idea is that the HEI, in accordance with the needs of the market, creates study programs that will provide the exact knowledge and skills needed to work in certain companies. The one who completes this program will have the exact knowledge needed at that moment by a particular company.

The WBNET project, also, aims to improve the process of international cooperation and cooperation with the economy of HEIs in WB countries through the development of centres for short study programs, networking with EU HEIs and the economic sector.

Resources, as a prerequisite for work and development of higher education, have been the target or covered topic of many previously carried out reform projects, with a common outcome analysis – higher education in WB countries is inadequately financed and low on the priority list.

The consortium consists of 3 HEIs from EU Member States and third countries associated to the Programme and 4 HEIs and 2 non-academic partners from third countries not associated to the program (Western Balkan). In the application HEIs from EU Member States and third countries associated to the Programme will be called EU HEIs and HEIs from WB are going to be called WB HEIs, in order to reduce the number of used words. WB countries involved n the project are that belong to WB countries, Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) and Kosovo. WB countries have compatibility of teaching programs and market needs, the governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo and HEIs are working on aligning the education system with the labour market needs, but mismatch the goals is still evident. Additionally, the project’s emphasis on developing Providing support for students and graduates in entering the labour market aligns with the call’s priorities on enhancing the employability and skills of higher education graduates and fostering cooperation between higher education and the economy.

Important part of WBNET project objective would be digital transformation in B&H and Kosovo. Implementation of digital transformation, the Western Balkans is facing similar challenges as the EU in terms of digitalization. The countries are working on improving the digital skills of their citizens and businesses, and also on the digitization of the public sector and the modernization of the digital infrastructure. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the necessity of accelerated digital transformation in all branches of industry, and the digitization of business is rightly considered a driver of change, offering new opportunities for business development and growth.

The project also addresses the general objective of the call by promoting the internationalization of HEIs in the Western Balkans region.