Taking care of the digital skills challenge

Digital skills challenge

Nicol Myburgh, Head: HCM Business Unit at CRS Technologies

Much has been written about the digital skills shortage. This is not a problem that will be solved overnight. As technology evolves, the demand for specific skills outpaces their availability. And as more people gain these sought-after competencies, there may be a temporary oversaturation of the market. Once parity is reached, new advancements shift the landscape again, and so the cycle continues.

Invariably, this results in a labour market brimming with skills that are no longer relevant. If anything, it highlights the importance of keeping the workforce’s skills aligned with the current needs of technology and industry. In many developed countries, an aging population means a significant portion of the workforce is nearing retirement which will lead to a shortage of experienced workers, particularly in sectors like manufacturing, healthcare and skilled trades. Younger workers entering the workforce may not have the same skill levels or may be less interested in these fields, exacerbating the shortage.

Adding complexity to this is the disconnect between the skills taught in educational institutions and those demanded by employers. For instance, the mismatch can come from outdated curricula, a lack of alignment with industry needs, or an emphasis on academic achievement over vocational training and skills development. Sometimes, the skills shortage is not global but rather localised, with certain regions experiencing a surplus of skilled workers while others face shortages. In some cases, skilled workers are available globally, but immigration policies and visa issues can restrict the movement of talent across borders, contributing to local or national skills shortages.

Rethinking training

Fortunately, there are many online learning platforms, vocational and technical education, coding boot camps, tech training programmes, corporate training and development programmes, and university and college courses available to help address this. One of the most impactful ways to address the skills gap is for individuals to take ownership and embrace self-study, as well as the wealth of online resources available.

Many have speculated that the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) will negatively impact the job market. Yes, it brings with it the opportunity to automate routine tasks, but it will also create many new jobs such as AI system development, maintenance and oversight. As AI becomes even more integrated into the workforce, the demand for certain skills will shift. Workers may find that AI tools and systems can augment their work, increasing efficiency and allowing them to focus on more complex, creative or interpersonal aspects of their roles.

The impact of AI on jobs also raises ethical and societal questions, including how to ensure fair treatment of workers displaced by technology, how to manage privacy concerns and biases in AI algorithms, and how to address the broader societal impacts of increased automation.

Industry support

To address the digital skills shortage requires all stakeholders to play their part. Industry stands on the front lines of market and technological changes, uniquely positioning it to identify emerging skills needs. Businesses have firsthand knowledge of the evolving skills required to remain competitive, making their input crucial in defining educational needs. By forming partnerships with universities, colleges and vocational training centres, the industry can help align curricula with real-world job market requirements.

Of course, governments can lay the groundwork for skills development through various means. These can include drafting specific policies that encourage lifelong learning and support for workers, to funding initiatives like providing incentives to businesses for investing in employee development. This is where examining successful models from around the world can provide invaluable insights to enhance workforce preparedness.

For instance, Germany’s Dual VET System combines company apprenticeships with vocational education, effectively preparing young individuals for the job market and reducing youth unemployment. In Canada, there is the Sectoral Initiatives Program that addresses skills shortages by supporting the development of sector-specific labour market intelligence and creating national occupational standards.

While the digital skills shortage is a significant challenge, it is not insurmountable if all stakeholders work together and people themselves start taking responsibility for their training. Technology will continue to evolve, and skills will continue to change. It is how we adapt to these that will be the measure of success.

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