The rapid growth of Internet access and connectivity has paved way for the development of a digital economy across the world. The World Economic Forum estimated in 2019 that 133 million new roles will be created by 2022 as a result of the new division of labour between humans, machines, and algorithms. However, there are major inequalities due to the lack of digital skills.
Digital skills are broadly defined as those needed to “use digital devices, communication applications, and networks to access and manage information,”–UNESCO. This covers a vast range and variety of skills, from basic through intermediate to advanced levels. They enable people to create and share digital content, communicate, and collaborate, and solve problems for effective and creative self-fulfillment in life, learning, work, and social activities at large. Upskilling and reskilling yourself in key in-demand digital skills can level up your resume and reboot your prospects in a competitive job market. Areas such as web design, analytics, social media, and artificial intelligence, are designed to equip learners with essential digital skills for the modern century workplace and daily life.
As below, these are defined as the basic functional digital skills needed in a day-to-day professional and personal context, to make basic use of digital devices and online applications. They will be enough for many working in traditional workplaces which have adopted digital systems to improve efficiency, security, and connectivity.
- Digital foundation skills–the fundamentals of being able to use digital technologies such as using a browser, connecting to the internet, and keeping passwords secure.
- Communicating–sending emails securely, using attachments, and taking part on social media.
- Handling information and content–using search engines, being aware that not all online content is reliable, accessing content across devices.
- Transacting–setting up accounts to use or purchase goods/services online, using different secure payment methods and the Automated Teller Machine (ATM), filling in online forms.
- Problem-solving–finding solutions to problems using frequently asked questions (FAQs)/tutorials/chat, presenting solutions through software, and improving productivity.
- Being safe and legal online–understanding best practices in data storage/sharing, updating and keeping passwords secure, and taking precautions against viruses.
Such basic digital skills can be developed from your desk by reading books and blogs, watch YouTube (learn how to do what), take a course and teach others what you have learned, and get analytical.
Whatever you would like to learn more about and whatever level you are already at, there will be a blog out there for you. Blogs normally take between one and fifteen minutes to read so they will give you a bite-sized knowledge that is perfect while you are taking a coffee break. By reading recently published blogs, you will get the most up-to-date information that is not always possible from a book. There are also YouTube videos for everything, and it is not just a website–it is the world’s second-largest search engine. If you find it hard to dedicate time to self-learning, then committing to a course–either online or classroom-based–might be what you need. Understanding the analytics behind digital marketing platforms (for example, websites, social media, and email) is the most important part but also the bit that many people do not master. Once you have understood the numbers, it will be easier to work out what affects them and how.
Digital skills are critical to earning income in the future economy as the formal and informal economies are digitizing. According to Digital Skills Observatory, digital skills (e-skills) are among the most sought after by businesses. Also, in the growing digital sector, one will need to possess more advanced skills pertaining to specific areas of digital business. These include, but not limited to, areas such as data analytics, artificial intelligence, digital marketing, Internet of Things, cybersecurity.
If we are to meet the needs of tomorrow, where shall we look to find “who” is to be called upon to invest in this skills development, and “what” must be aided/facilitated? Whether acting as policy-making bodies or as institutions that provide educational/training services, the system of education, training, and employment must move towards developing learning “programs” and “educational projects” that include modern tools and methodologies. These tools and methodologies must be capable not only of transferring the technical knowledge beneficial to acquiring digital skills but also developing the soft skills in tangent with the digital world. Fostering public awareness of the active role that the citizenry can play in the knowledge society, alongside a workforce able to use digital skills in their respective sectors.
Hence, revamping training programs at all levels with digital in mind − whether secondary school or university or at a professional retraining or management training level − is a step that we cannot afford to put off any longer. We must raise the level of competence – upskilling and reskilling, starting out from adaptation of people’s skills vis-à-vis the skills required by the marketplace. Digital skills are therefore important because they underpin so much of how modern work is conducted. For many modern professions, digital skills are simply essential skills, and in this fourth industrial revolution the need will only continue to increase, and a greater demand for those with advanced digital skills, as we see more drive towards automation and cross-system data exchange.
Richard is the Director of Operations, Institute of ICT Professionals, Ghana)
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