Why digital skills are your next business imperative

For around 50 years now, businesses, organizations, and individuals have been coming online. It’s hard to imagine a world without instant connectivity; many of us have integrated digital technology into our everyday lives, both personal and professional.

With every new generation of technology, however, matters are becoming more complicated. Increasingly complex systems, rapid data creation and processing, and continually evolving cyber threats all require an up-to-date grasp of technology and its applications. But what happens if our technological ambitions outstrip our abilities?

Ensuring that digital skills keep pace with organizational needs is a challenge facing businesses of all kinds. We examine the current state of global digital skills and explain why embedding a learning mindset in business culture today will pay dividends tomorrow.

Global digital skills

It may surprise some to learn that the internet is not yet truly global. In fact, less than two-thirds of the world’s population (59%) are active internet users, equivalent to around 4.7 billion people. Vast regional inequalities highlight the true limitations of the internet’s reach; Northern Europe’s internet penetration rate stands at 95%, whereas Africa’s is less than one-third (28.2%) as of 2019.

With statistics like these, it may be tempting to assume that Europe, at least, is prepared for the increasing digitization of the global economy. However, the European Commission found that around 37% of the European workforce does not have basic digital skills, defined as the ability to complete low-level computational tasks such as sending an email or word processing. In lower income economies around the world, this figure rises to 68%.  According to the World Economic Forum, standard digital skills – such as creating an electronic presentation or using a basic formula in a spreadsheet – are held by just 44% of those in high income economies.

Skills gap

Research from the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training shows that 85% of all EU jobs need at least a basic level of digital skills. Furthermore, one in five European workers believe it to be very likely that their skills will become outdated in the next five years.

digital learning

The diversity of industries requiring digital skills is growing, making it more difficult for businesses to find the talent they need as well as for workers to secure positions. Interestingly, sectors not traditionally associated with digitalization, such as forestry and catering, are almost as affected by technological change as more obviously digital industries. This further limits the occupations available to those without the necessary ICT skills and increases competition among industries for workers.

Sector% of jobs experiencing technological change in the last 5 years
Gas, electricity & mining51%
Financial, insurance & real estate51%
Professional, scientific & technical services51%
Manufacturing & engineering49%
Education & health45%
Public administration42%
Agriculture, forestry & fishing39%
Cultural industries39%
Retail & sales35%
Social & personal services31%
Accommodation, catering & food27%

Business impacts

Given the disconnect between the skills businesses need and what the workforce currently has, it’s likely that there will be recruitment challenges ahead for organizations of all kinds. By 2030, 1.2 billion workers’ roles will be impacted by AI and automation, disrupting the equivalent of US$14.6 trillion in wages, or half the world’s economy. In Europe’s ICT sector alone, which accounts for just 3-4% of total EU employment, the digital skills gap is predicted to result in 1.67 million unfilled vacancies by 2025.

  • Automation

The automation paradox holds that the more complex the automation is, the more invaluable human input becomes. Therefore, without the right humans in charge of the technology, its true value will either never be realized, or it will go wrong.

An extreme example of what can happen when humans don’t understand the technology they are operating can be found in the recent Boeing 737 Max disaster. 346 people in two flights were killed and the world’s 737 Max fleets were grounded due to a fatal flaw in the plane’s automated systems, which many people involved in building, testing and approving the system later confessed to not having fully understood.

  • Data capabilities

The future is data-driven, and as companies gear up for a digital-first approach, data challenges are becoming evident. While 83% of enterprise workloads are moving to cloud systems, it’s clear that few organizations are ready for such a change: 64% are struggling with data management issues. Despite this, just 56% of businesses reported an increased focus on digital tools to facilitate digital training.

As more and more companies divest from physical assets such as real estate, spending on intangibles – such as intellectual property and digital assets – is set to rise by 11% over the coming years. For organizations without the necessary workforce skill levels, ensuring that their intangible assets successfully managed, maintained and deployed could prove challenging.

  • Cyber security

Roughly 95% of all cyber security breaches are caused by human error. Digital savvy is necessary for spotting cyber threats, responding to them, and, most importantly, avoiding the common missteps that leave the door open for cyber-attacks in the first place.

Around a third of people say they never think about cyber security while they’re at work. Whether through a lack of understanding of the risks or simple unawareness of the issue, the result is that businesses may be far more exposed to cyber security threats than they realize. Knowing the fundamentals of cyber security may not be enough, however; although 91% of survey respondents knew that reusing passwords is risky, 61% reuse passwords anyway.

Plugging the digital skills gap

Although the digital skills gap will undeniably present a problem for businesses, the good news is that people are taking upskilling into their own hands. Around two-thirds of people (60%) believe that their digital skills have improved this year, and over half want to do more.

Independent digital learning has flourished in 2020, with digital skills initiatives by Microsoft, LinkedIn, and GitHub having reached around 10 million learners since June. Learners from 231 countries have taken advantage of the online courses which “aim to get people the skills they need to find and land their next job.” LinkedIn announced the most popular skills were those concerning software developers, customer service, and data analyst roles, each of which is one of the world’s most in-demand professions.  

A blend of employer-led and independent learning is the most obvious way through the digital skills gap, and many companies have already begun to fight fire with fire using e-learning tools. E-learning, such as that offered by LinkedIn, has been shown to improve retention rates by between 25-60% compared to traditional face-to-face training, reducing the necessary amount of time spent on absorbing information.

Companies investing in e-learning experience an 18% increase in employee engagement, and it offers a productivity return rate of $30 for every $1 spent. Corporate e-learning is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 11% for the next four years; companies which choose to invest early will reap the rewards of a satisfied, productive workforce while competitors continue to struggle for talent.  

At Mantu, we believe that training is a powerful tool for tackling tomorrow’s challenges. We offer effective training solutions for the complex learning needs of a top-performing workforce. Find out more about our training solutions and all of the Mantu brands at Mantu.com.

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