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Research Questions

  1. What does the digital skills landscape look like?
  2. What is driving the digital skills gap?
  3. How can organisations address the digital skills gap?

Rapid and widespread digitalisation has changed the nature of work, and digital skills are now regarded as essential for the modern workforce. Employees need digital skills to work with new technologies and to keep up to date with rapid technological advancements. While the demand for digital skills is high, supply is low. Workforces do not always have the skills needed to manage digital transformation, and businesses often struggle to find talent for digital roles. This digital skills 'gap' has become even more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic. As digitalisation sped up to move many jobs online, the need for digital skills increased. The aim of the research was to carry out a scoping study to examine the evidence associated with various aspects of the current digital skills landscape, focusing on the digital skills gap. We sought to better understand whether and why the digital skills gap is widening, as well as its implications for digital and social inequalities, and what various stakeholders are doing in response. Our findings highlight the importance and urgency of addressing the digital skills gap, not least to ensure that industries and businesses keep pace with the rate and scale of technological innovation. Furthermore, we highlight that digital and social inequalities — exacerbated by the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic — affect opportunities to develop digital skills, and closing the skills gap could prevent the growth of social inequalities between those who have digital skills versus those who do not.

Key Findings

The digital skills landscape is characterised by complex trends, presenting both challenges and opportunities

  • Rapid and widespread digitalisation has changed the nature of work, making digital skills an essential attribute for the modern workforce.
  • Employers are actively seeking employees with digital skills in order to adapt to an increasingly digitalised environment.
  • While the demand for digital skills is high, supply is low, and businesses often struggle to find talent for digital roles.
  • Along with digital skills, soft skills are needed to facilitate workers' adaptation to changing work environments and are increasingly valued by organisations.
  • The digital skills gap and its impact has come to the forefront of discussions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • On a global scale, it is becoming increasingly clear that the digital skills gap comes at a cost.

The digital skills gap that has emerged is being shaped by several distinct but interrelated factors

  • Digitalisation and the application of emerging technologies have accelerated the demand for digital skills.
  • Digital and social inequalities affect opportunities to develop digital skills.
  • Traditional modes of education alone may not be keeping up with employers' needs for digital skills.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the urgency to create conditions which effectively leverage digital solutions for virtual work and commerce.
  • Technological progress is necessitating agile skill adaptation from workers who need a range of new skills to adjust to the new marketplaces and work environments.

Numerous options exist for organisations to address the digital skills gap

  • A common skills framework could be used to match talent with business skill demand.
  • Skill-based hiring practices could help fill digital skills gaps within companies.
  • Upskilling and reskilling initiatives can play a key role in building resilient workforces.
  • Redistribution of labour and skills across businesses can create opportunities to address skill mismatches.
  • Digitally inclusive initiatives and programmes can help develop digital skills.
  • Industry experience opportunities can provide effective alternatives for building skills.
  • Businesses can support workers by adopting a lifelong learning approach.
  • Developing cross-cutting partnerships between different stakeholders can help tackle the skills gap.

Research conducted by

This research was prepared for Salesforce and conducted by RAND Europe.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.