• The Forum’s Future of Jobs report pointed to the double disruption of automation and pandemic, with 85 million jobs displaced by 2025. But among those set to remain, 50% will need reskilling by 2025.
  • To rise to the challenge, four critical areas – universal digital learning, micro-credentials, skills-based credentials and hands-on learning – will require coordinated attention from governments, the private sector, donors, and civil society.

In January this year, the World Economic Forum (WEF) launched the Reskilling Revolution platform with an ambitious goal to provide one billion people with better education, skills, and jobs by 2030.

A lot has changed since then. The Forum’s latest Future of Jobs report pointed to irreversible trends impacting the skills landscape. The double disruption caused by automation and the pandemic is likely to displace 85 million jobs by 2025. Among those set to remain in their roles, 50% will need reskilling by 2025.

The staggering scale of the challenge means that we need to look beyond conventional wisdom for solutions. Setting aside the pandemic’s near-term economic consequences, the moment represents an opportunity to rebuild an inclusive, modern, and scalable skills development paradigm. The combined forces of online learning and remote work – especially with the exploding growth of entry-level digital jobs that can be done remotely – promise a future where anyone, anywhere has access to both high-quality learning and high-quality job opportunities.

Both Coursera and Edraak saw more than 400% and 150% growth in learner sign-ups during the pandemic. The rapid onboarding to online learning offers enormous possibilities, but this acceleration has also underscored challenges worsened by the digital divide. Several experiments and models are being explored worldwide. However, four critical areas require special and coordinated attention from governments, the private sector, donors, and civil society.

Future of Jobs 2020
Image: World Economic Forum

Provide universal access to connectivity and devices

Millions of graduating students and workers are doubling down on learning new skills, albeit remotely. But the pandemic has made it clear that those with unequal access to digital devices, internet connectivity and reliable electricity are the worst hit.

The pandemic has fueled innovative experiments around the world. As Kenya looked to quickly widen internet coverage, it deployed Loon balloons -- a network of high-altitude balloons that created an aerial 4G wireless network to provide internet connectivity to students in remote communities. A continent away, Peru looked to solve a more fundamental challenge. In areas with no electricity, the tablets were delivered with solar chargers.

Governments and institutions worldwide must come together to find ways to fund devices. Every year, companies retire millions of laptops, which can be easily redistributed to those in need. Lebanon-based organization, Thaki, uses 'donated laptops' to enhance digital literacy with creative learning solutions for vulnerable youth.

Building mobile-friendly learning experiences need to be part of any job readiness initiatives. On Coursera, 52% of learners use mobile to access the platform. On the Edraak platform, 70% of MENA learners use mobile devices to acquire new skills. Policy-makers have to find ways to ramp up broadband infrastructure and bring down data costs. For example, Nigeria is looking at reducing data costs as online learning becomes a new reality for students in the country.

We find that students around the world value the option to download, learn, and complete courseware offline – especially in regions where access to the internet is unreliable or expensive. Edraak partners with three telcos in Jordan to zero-rate its K12 platform. Similarly, telecom operators in Egypt subsidized internet traffic related to education.

Promote a thriving ecosystem of skill-based credentials

According to Microsoft, there will be 150 million new digital jobs in the next five years. It has partly fueled the fivefold increase in enterprise learners on Coursera.

Professional Certificates like Google IT Support equip workers with the latest industry-relevant digital skills. These entry-level Professional Certificates enable someone with no college degree or prior experience to learn the required skills for in-demand digital jobs entirely online in 3-5 months.

Such certifications can dramatically increase opportunities for low-skilled workers to enter digital fields. Governments that helped unemployed workers reskill through Coursera’s Workforce Recovery Initiative recognized the immediate impact of such certificates during the pandemic. Civil society, donors, and nonprofits can play a crucial role in advancing the global skilling agenda. Misk Foundation, for example, has partnered with Udacity on the Future Seekers initiative to equip 100,000 Saudis with skills of the future.

Building the currency of micro-credentials

The 21-st-century job market requires a skill-based ecosystem powered by three critical shifts. It must enable agile and decentralized competency-driven credentialing, a shared language for defining and recognizing competencies, and micro-credentials as building blocks for bundled credentials.

While there is a lot of work to be done, the good news is that the foundation for such a system exists. For example, Credly is creating a common language of verified skills to issue and manage digital credentials. It helps individuals provide verified competency signals while enabling organizations to make better decisions based on trusted information.

The World Economic Forum recently launched The Skills Consortium that is working towards systematic solutions to leverage online learning as a key enabler for skilling at scale.

Create widespread access to hands-on learning

Industry and domain-specific tools increasingly power businesses. Whether it is using a business intelligence tool, conducting data analysis using Python, or building websites using WordPress, companies rely on ready-to-use tools to accelerate deployment and experimentation. However, the application of such tools is not widely taught in traditional university programmes.

University Innovation Alliance – the leading national coalition of public research universities in the US – reports that students fear being unprepared for their first jobs. Yet, now more than ever, companies need students with the ability to apply skills and hit the ground running once employed.

What is the World Economic Forum doing to improve digital intelligence in children?

The latest figures show that 56% of 8-12-year-olds across 29 countries are involved in at least one of the world's major cyber-risks: cyberbullying, video-game addiction, online sexual behaviour or meeting with strangers encountered on the web.

Using the Forum's platform to accelerate its work globally, #DQEveryChild, an initiative to increase the digital intelligence quotient (DQ) of children aged 8-12, has reduced cyber-risk exposure by 15%.

In March 2019, the DQ Global Standards Report 2019 was launched – the first attempt to define a global standard for digital literacy, skills and readiness across the education and technology sectors.

The 8 Digital Citizenship Skills every child needs
The 8 Digital Citizenship Skills every child needs
Image: DQ Institute

Our System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Media, Information and Entertainment has brought together key stakeholders to ensure better digital intelligence for children worldwide. Find our more about DQ Citizenship in our Impact Story.

Guided Projects on Coursera is directly addressing this need. Student and workers can gain job-relevant skills in less than two hours with step-by-step guidance from an instructor. These projects run in a browser and don’t require any software installation, configuration, or data downloads. The inclusion of hands-on learning is critical to helping workers keep up with the pace at which industry tools are changing.

Leaders face a complex situation, negotiating how to manage the COVID-19 crisis in the context of economic, demographic, and technological challenges. The cost of inaction and delay can leave millions of workers ill-prepared for the future. With the right public-private partnerships, we can successfully navigate the ongoing volatility and lay the foundation for an agile and skilled workforce.