Updating digital skills: How can companies, individuals and policymakers prepare for the future of work?
This week in Stockholm, Readie brought together 19 policymakers and industry experts from across Europe for a special two-day event that focused on digital skills and the future of work. With this topic high on the agenda of governments across Europe, participants shared their goals and challenges, compared their approaches, and examined the key elements for the success of interventions and programmes.
Digital skills are important. As Pierre Verlyck, from Grande École du Numérique, succinctly put it following Readie’s event in Stockholm this week: “Digital skills are no longer just required by ‘technical jobs’ but are a key building block of employment.”
More and more jobs now require the use of digital hardware and software, and many others could still benefit from the adoption and development of these tools. According to recent EC research, 38 per cent of European firms report that insufficient digital skills hurt their performance, with losses in productivity and customers as the main consequences.
For both individuals and businesses, taking advantage of digitalisation requires more than a set of specific technical capabilities. Speaking on the first day of the event, Director of Vinnova, Ulf Holmgren, explained that creativity is an important ingredient in digital transformation. ‘Soft’ skills such as good communication, critical thinking and most importantly a learning mindset are necessary capabilities for anyone to thrive in the digital economy.
Over two days of discussion and workshops we identified some key insights.
The benefits of digital skills need to be clearly communicated
Motivation emerged as a key issue. We heard that individuals and firms often struggle to see an urgent need to prepare for the future by investing in digital skills. Their understanding can be limited in scope, either to the skills required (exclusively technical), or the departments and people that require them (ICT jobs only). In companies and other institutions, leaders need to embrace technology and lead by example, as well as connect with the needs of their audience. For individuals to invest in the time to learn new skills, they need to see the benefits that digitalisation can bring them.
Collaboration is vital to delivering impact
At our event we heard how important it is to collaborate with the right partners, both within and outside of government. Maria Rosendahl described the KickStart project from Sweden, a pilot which aims to shift the mindsets of traditional SMEs. Through an intensive two-day programme, company leaders are empowered to ‘kickstart’ their digital journey by learning about the benefits of transformation and opportunities for business and job growth.
Run by Teknikföretagen and IF Metall in collaboration with with RISE (Research Institute of Sweden), Tillväxtverket, and Fiber Optic Valley, Maria explained that working with diverse stakeholders is essential to delivering effective, relevant skills programmes. The project has been piloted successfully as part of the Tillväxtverket’s Digilyft programme and aims to engage 1,000 businesses by the end of 2018.
Policy can play a key role in fostering a ‘learning mindset’
Examples like this one show that policy interventions should encourage a wider shift to a ‘learning mindset’, which does not see training as ending with formal education and allows continual adjustment to the individual needs of jobs and private lives.
This is an approach championed by Google’s re:Work initiative; Iarla Flynn, their Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs for Northern Europe, told us that a main criteria for hiring is ‘flexibility’. The ‘learning mindset’ addresses a core problem: even if the right digital skills can be defined for a given setting, individual and organisational needs in the digital economy change too rapidly for policy to keep up. As Readie’s research into effective policy for digital skills progresses, we will be looking into new ways to address this issue.
Alongside our hosts Vinnova and Tillväxtverket, we would also like to thank everyone who joined us, both as speakers and participants, for their valuable contributions. The high-level workshop was part of Readie’s ongoing investigation into digital skills, life-long learning and the changing nature of work.