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What skills are needed for tomorrow’s digital world?

Source |  |  Glenda Quintini   

nformation and communication technologies (ICT) are changing profoundly the skill profile of jobs. The use of ICT in the workplace — affecting only a handful of jobs a few decades ago — is now required in all but two occupations in the United States: dishwashing and food cooking (Berger and Frey, 2017). In most OECD countries, over 95% of workers in large businesses and 85% in medium-sized businesses have access to and use the Internet as part of their jobs. In small businesses the share is at least 65% (OECD, 2013).

To seize the benefits of technological change, economies need ICT specialists: workers who can code, develop applications, manage networks and manage and analyse Big Data, among other skills. These skills enable innovation in a digital economy to flourish, but also support the infrastructure that firms, governments, commerce and users rely on (OECD, 2016a). However, besides these experts, all workers are increasingly required to have a minimum level of ICT skills, even those in low-skilled jobs. For instance, this is the case for blue-collar workers in factories that are entirely automated or waiters having to take orders on iPads.

In addition, workers will need a broader set of skills, complementary to ICT, to thrive in the digital economy. While working with the new technologies, workers will have to be able to take on complex, less automatable, tasks such as problem solving in novel situations. This requires solid literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills, but also autonomy, co-ordination and collaborative skills which complement ICT skills (Grundke et al.,2017). Workers will also need to be capable of adapting continuously as technologies evolve.

The importance of digital skills is reflected in the wage returns to these skills (see Figure 1). Relative to workers who can only perform the most basic computer functions like typing or operating a mouse (workers at or below Level 1), workers able to solve relatively complex problems using a computer (Level 2/3) are paid 27% more, on average. These gaps are greater than 50% in England (UK), Singapore and the United States. In addition, as technology increasingly allows for a wider range of tasks to be automated, the value of skills needed for non-automatable tasks, such as social skills, is also likely to increase.


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