Inclusive Digital Skills Training – What will it take?

Digital skills are increasingly a pre-requisite to participation in the workplace and are likely to become more so in the future. From the most basic level such as sending emails to data science and AI, our professional lives are ever more dependent upon being able to use and master new technologies. How can countries like Australia, Colombia, and New Zealand measure this skill set, compare the results across their population, and ensure digital skilling opportunities for all?

In 2021, digital literacy is a sine qua non condition in all agendas for technological transition and innovation. It remains key in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 4: quality education. In particular Target 4.4 aims to “increase the number of youth and adults with relevant technical and vocational skills for decent jobs”, and Target 4.5 to “eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations”[1]. To measure progress, the United Nations call upon countries to track the share of youth and adults in their population with information and communications technology (ICT) skills.

As part of our Skills for Employability project[2] and in partnership with our GAN Networks, GAN has delivered three digital skills situational analyses for Australia, Colombia, and New Zealand. We started by addressing a few fundamental questions such as: What are digital skills? Who are the most relevant actors in this area and what initiatives are they are running to promote the uptake of digital skills for decent employment?

We then identified the nature of the skills gaps in the respective countries, and insights about the most in-demand career pathways and recommendations to ensure an inclusive Future of Work and better skills-match aligned to labour market needs. Although we drew tailored conclusions for each of our project countries, some of the research findings apply across national boundaries, and are relevant to all three countries (and beyond):

  • Despite governmental investments in the digital infrastructure for education and training in recent years, large disparities still exist and mostly affect lower-income households, ethnicity and indigenous groups, residents outside the cities, who are excluded from digital access and lack basic digital skills.
  • Social inclusion should be the first consideration of every stakeholder, primarily governments, working across initiatives to expand and enhance a fair access to digital technology and digital training for all.
  • Infrastructure development is often skewed in favour of cities. This means greater limitations in terms of connectivity and digital infrastructure in the rural and more remote areas where the highest concentration of the population that is digitally excluded live.
  • When training and education happens online, for those who are unable to access online services, in-person or other accessibility instructions and tools should be provided.
  • There is a disconnect between what is taught and what the job market needs. This suggests that businesses and employers need to meaningfully participate in the development of training curricula, hand in hand with other relevant stakeholders.
  • Digital skills training can exist within both the formal qualifications system and informal non-accredited training, e.g., private sector-led initiatives like Microsoft Learning/LinkedIn pathways[3]. Governments are invited to create an ecosystem in which training providers can implement innovative accreditation systems. Private sector learning credentials have the potential to complement and contribute to public officially recognized qualifications while providing employability skills and a pathway into the world of work.

The GAN Networks’ Digital Skills Situational Analyses also provided an opportunity to raise additional questions on the definition of digital literacy, the differing levels of demand for digital skills while considering some of the most in-demand job roles, the feasibility of online learning for students with little to no exposure to online training offer. These GAN publications come at a time when the entire labour market faces both challenges and opportunities arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope these analyses offer a useful approach to inform policy discussions on the opportunities and challenges created by the digital economy for talent and skills development.

Read the full Digital Skills Situational Analyses from GAN Australia, GAN Colombia, and GAN New Zealand.

[1] [2] Funding is provided by Microsoft Corporation. This material does not necessarily reflect Microsoft’s views or policies, nor does mention of initiatives or organizations imply endorsement by Microsoft. [3]