Examining the digital skills gap

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Researchers assessed the evidence associated with the digital skills gap. The study analysed the key trends driving the gap at a global level and articulated some practical steps to address this challenge and potentially ‘close’ the gap.

What is the issue?

Employees need digital skills to work with new technologies and to keep up to date with rapid technological advancements but while the demand for digital skills is high, supply is low 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.

How did we help?

RAND Europe examined the trends underpinning the global digital skills landscape, focusing on the digital skills gap. Through a rapid review of recent literature we sought to better understand whether and why the digital skills gap is widening and what various stakeholders are doing in response.

What did we find?

Our findings highlight the importance and urgency of addressing the digital skills gap and that digital and social inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic affect opportunities to develop digital skills.

What does the digital skills landscape look like?

  • Rapid and widespread digitalisation has changed the nature of work, making digital skills an essential attribute for the modern workforce.
  • Employers actively seek employees with digital skills 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 help workers adapt to changing work environments, and are increasingly valued by organisations.
  • The digital skills gap and its impact has come to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • On a global scale, it is becoming increasingly clear that the digital skills gap comes at a cost.

What drives the digital skills gap?

  • Digitalisation and the use of emerging technologies have accelerated the demand for digital skills.
  • Digital and social inequalities affect opportunities to develop digital skills.
  • Traditional types 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 use digital solutions for virtual work and commerce.
  • Technological progress requires agile skill adaptation from workers who need a range of new skills to adjust to the new marketplaces and work environments.

What can be done?

Some core actions that organisations are taking, or could take, to address the gap include:

  • Developing a common skills framework to match talent with business skill demand
  • Using skill-based hiring practices to help fill digital skills gaps within companies
  • Upskilling and reskilling initiatives to build resilient workforces
  • Redistributing labour and skills across businesses which can create opportunities to address skill mismatches
  • Driving digitally-inclusive initiatives and programmes to help develop digital skills
  • Industry experience opportunities to provide effective alternatives for building skills
  • Adopting a lifelong learning approach to support workers
  • Developing cross-cutting partnerships between different stakeholders to help tackle the skills gap