This is how businesses are driving digital inclusion and closing the skills gap

Person working on their digital devices - we need to close the skills gap

There is an increasing need to close the skills gap in business around the world. Image:  O C I A L . C U T/Unsplash

Kayleigh Bateman
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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The Digital Transformation of Business

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  • “Insufficient internal skills” is a problem for employers trying to find digital expertise.
  • A report by BT - a British multinational telecommunications company - has found that the skills gap in the UK may have worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Digital poverty means more than one in 20 households in the UK have no access to the internet.
  • Organizations within the World Economic Forum’s EDISON Alliance are working together to close the divide.

Massive shifts in how people work have exposed a deep skills divide. As a result, businesses are searching for workers with digital expertise, and candidates are searching for employers willing to train them.

British organizations cited “insufficient internal skills” as their main challenge over the next five years, according to BT’s The Future in 2021 report. This was particularly acute in the retail sector, where 40% said it was the main challenge, followed by medical and health services, and education. Around a third of small- and medium-sized companies (SMEs) said they found it challenging.

Digital skills are key according to 92% of businesses, a report from the Learning & Work Institute shows. More than eight in ten young people realize those skills will be essential for their future careers and 70% expect employers to train them on the job.

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The divide means many young people are living in digital poverty, unable to learn the necessary skills for a successful career. Closing the gap requires organizations to come together.

Industries that reported ‘insufficient internal skills’ as a key business challenge.
“Insufficient internal skills” has become a problem for a range of sectors in the UK. Image: BT’s The Future in 2021 report

Young people from lower socio-economic groups are particularly vulnerable to digital poverty. One in five households with children has no access to an appropriate device, according to the Learning & Work Institute’s report. Furthermore, more than one in 20 households in the UK have no access to the internet.

What is the EDISON Alliance?

2020 may have accelerated the digitalization of economies and societies, but it also highlighted the disparity in connectivity and digital services within society and the role they play in inclusion.

In response, the World Economic Forum launched the Essential Digital Infrastructure and Services Network (EDISON) Alliance in September to mobilize an ecosystem of global change-makers to prioritize digital inclusion. The Alliance aims to make opportunities affordable and accessible for everyone by 2025.

47% of people do not benefit from the internet, according to Derek O’Halloran, Head of the Platform for Shaping the Future of Digital Economy and New Value Creation at the World Economic Forum.

“This challenge is about more than infrastructure,” he says. “It is about the collaboration and investment needed across different industries, governments and civil society to bring safe, meaningful services to people’s lives.”

Closing the skills gap

So what are EDISON Alliance members doing to close the digital skills gap?


Verizon’s plan “for moving the world forward for all” includes providing 10 million youths with digital skills training by 2030.

Hans Vestberg Chairman and CEO, Verizon and Chair of The EDISON Alliance, recently pledged Verizon’s commitment to the Forum’s 1 Billion Lives Challenge. Supporting the EDISON Alliance, the challenge aims to accelerate digital services for underserved populations and to demonstrate universal digital inclusion as an achievable goal.

“Through the EDISON Alliance, we aim to create a more digitally inclusive world by connecting 1 Billion Lives to this fundamental core of our society,” says Hans Vestberg.


The Global System for Mobile Association (GMSA) aims to improve digital inclusion through its Mobile Digital Skills Alliance, which brings together representatives from the mobile and technology industries to improve the digital skills gap in low- and middle-income countries.

One billion people have gained access to the internet through mobiles since 2015, according to the GSMA, but more than half the population is still not using a mobile phone.

SMART Africa is a commitment from African Heads of State and Government to accelerate development on the continent through affordable access to broadband and communications technologies.

The EDISON Alliance partner launched a Smart Africa Alliance to share knowledge and it’s grown to include 30 African countries that represent 700+ million people.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about the skills gap in India?


In a bid to close the skills gap, Alliance member Google is offering courses to build confidence and train candidates with the digital skills required by businesses.

Likewise, Dell Technologies is also working as part of the Alliance to improve digital literacy and career skills through competency-based learning. The technology giant also aims to improve connectivity and access to devices for underserved communities.

Smaller enterprises

EDISON Alliance partner Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) is helping SMEs to improve operations and generate new revenue through its Singapore SMEs Go Digital programme. Supporting SMEs, the initiative uses digital technologies to find new opportunities for growth in the digital economy.

The Forum launched the Reskilling Revolution at its Annual Meeting in Davos last year. The platform aims to provide better jobs, education and skills to one billion people in the next 10 years through training initiatives such as its Closing the Skills Gap Accelerator Model.

More details about the Forum’s Reskilling Revolution Platform can be found in the Closing the Skills Gap: Key Insights and Success Metrics whitepaper.

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