Bridging the digital divide to create the jobs of the future

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Digital training must be improved to bridge the skills divide and boost the global economy. Image: Unsplash / @nasa

Gavin Patterson
Chairman, Octopus Energy
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  • Significant work is needed to help employers and employees bridge the digital divide to support future job requirements.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the gap, but it shows no sign of easing even as governments ease restrictions that caused an uptick in digital activity.
  • Governments must support businesses as they constantly refresh hiring practices and open up digital roles to a wider and more diverse talent pool.

Ahead of the G20 summit in Rome this autumn, the Italian presidency of the group of leading industrial nations has published its agenda of global priorities. This includes “working to bridge the digital divide and make digitalization an opportunity for all, improve productivity and – in short – to leave no one behind.”

For four years now, a G20 Digital Economy Task Force has been working on recommendations to enable digital transformation to enhance economic and social growth. Achieving such growth will mean addressing a key aspect of the digital divide: improving digital training and closing the skills gap that is holding back too many segments of the global economy.

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The pandemic effect
The impact of this digital skills gap has been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced large parts of society to adjust to remote working, embrace e-medicine and adapt to distance learning.

As a result, there is a risk of a major economic hit if the digital skills gap is not addressed. In a recent report on accelerating skills acquisition, Accenture says: “If skill-building doesn’t catch up with the rate of technological progress, the G20 economies could lose up to $11.5 trillion in cumulative GDP growth in the next 10 years. That’s equivalent to losing more than an entire percentage point from the average annual growth rate every year over that period.”

As commercial activity picks up – with consumer spending returning in areas like hospitality and travel, and as household-earners return to their workplaces – it’s clear that many people will continue to use digital applications for all manner of social and economic engagement.

But the pace of recovery, and who benefits from it, is also likely to expose the gap between the digital haves and have-nots. This is about more than digital literacy – the ability to use a smartphone or update a social media profile. It is about the ability to participate and thrive in the digital economy. That includes, for example, the knowledge and ability to code, or to use the cloud to effectively gather and analyze data and manage customer relationships. In other words, to be productive and innovate seamlessly in the office and online - from anywhere.

This is about more than digital literacy. It is about the ability to participate and thrive in the digital economy.

Gavin Patterson, Salesforce

Upskilling for a digital world
Enhanced digital skills are mutually beneficial to employers and their employees. Both need to address a skills gap in the coming years, something Salesforce examined recently in a joint study with RAND Europe on the global digital skills challenge. The study found technology design and programming are among the top 10 skills that will be essential by 2025, alongside others including social influence, leadership, creativity, resilience and active learning.

Already, leading economies are finding that digital skills are essential to fill vacancies with suitably competent workers. Digital upskilling and proficiency will be required in non-technical roles in areas such as sales, customer relationship management, marketing, finance and HR, among others, to realise the full benefits of digital transformation.

At the start of 2021, there were over 300,000 job listings for digital skills in customer relationship management positions in the UK, for example. There is a big gap between the demand for digital skills and availability, however – less than half (48%) of UK employers believe young people are leaving full-time education with sufficient digital skills.

Core digital skills are a gateway into so many jobs and they’ll soon be as important as reading and writing. This is especially true in a world where almost two-thirds of global GDP is expected to be driven by digitised products and services next year.

Core digital skills are a gateway into so many jobs and they’ll soon be as important as reading and writing.

Gavin Patterson, Salesforce

Solving the skills gap
There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but government intervention will be an integral part of the solution to this skills gap. At the Rome G20 summit, it’s likely that governments will be urged to work more closely with business to prioritise digital skills. This puts an obligation on employers to do everything they can to support their employees (current and prospective) to take on more skills, for example, by providing them with free, hands-on training and courses.

At Salesforce, we’ve done this by launching Trailhead, our online learning platform. It takes participants from a low level of technical knowledge to a Salesforce role in as little as six months. By earning credentials along the way, participants can demonstrate their expertise to current and future employers. Other organisations such as Google and Barclays have also invested in providing free online learning opportunities.

It is essential that businesses constantly refresh the way they hire, with less focus on traditional education and more on tech skills.

Gavin Patterson, Salesforce

It is also essential that businesses constantly refresh the way they hire, with less focus on traditional education and more on the tech skills that individuals already possess or are striving towards. This way, digital roles will be opened up to a wider and more diverse talent pool.

In August 2021, G20 digital ministers took a step in the right direction by signing a Declaration that identifies 12 actions to accelerate the digital transition. This paves the way for heads of government to endorse further digitization later this year in Rome. We hope they take the opportunity to take collective, immediate action to tackle the digital skills gap and ensure that no one is left behind.

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