Technology is quickly transforming the way we live and work. Most transactions are digital, information is immediate. Do you remember a time without Google or smart phones? Or the last time you walked into a bank to withdraw money? Soon enough, we won’t need a telephone to communicate because communications capabilities will be built into all the other devices we use — our cars, our computers, and our home entertainment systems.
The cloud, collaboration platforms like Slack and SharePoint, and the abundant tools to facilitate communication and transactions are vital in the workplace of the 21st Century. In all industries, no matter the sector, digital technologies are a fundamental tool for business.
In fact, the use of digital technologies is projected to grow in the coming years. According to the World Economic Forum and the European Commission, by 2025 90% of jobs will require digital skills, yet only 40% of EU citizens meet these criteria.
Welcome to the labour market of the 21ST century. To succeed, you will need digital skills.
What are digital skills?
What do we mean by digital skills or digital competence? According to the European Commission (EC), it is the ability to use and engage with digital technologies for learning, working and for participating in society in a responsible, confident and critical manner. The EC’s framework classifies digital skills in five groups: (1) Information and data literacy, the ability to locate and retrieve digital data, information and content, judge its relevance, manage, organise and store it; (2) communication and collaboration, the ability to interact, communicate, collaborate and participate in society through digital technologies; (3) digital content creation, the ability to create and edit digital content, understanding how copyright and licences work; (4) safety, the ability to protect devices, content, personal data and privacy in digital environments; and (5) problem solving, the ability to identify needs and problems and resolve conceptual problems in digital environments.
The use of digital skills will increase in the future for all types of jobs as a consequence of changes in the way we produce goods and services. Global companies, with jobs around the world, open source projects, and the gig economy rely heavily on the competent use of technology for creating, sharing and storing content. According to Accenture, 85% of business executives plan to increase their organization’s use of freelance workers over the next year.
Also, digital skills are becoming more and more important for entering the labour market. As routine tasks formerly done by less experienced workers are increasingly automated, entry-level jobs will demand more sophisticated skills, including the ability to use and complement technology.
Keeping pace with technology – Caribbean Imperatives
Currently, the labour force is mostly comprised of people born before the internet era who are generally familiar with using digital technologies. These workers have at least a foundational level of digital skills. However, to stay relevant in the labour market, they will need to upgrade their digital skills to be able to interact with increasingly sophisticated technology and evolving digital platforms. They will need to be digitally competent.
Workers will have to be proactive and look for ways to develop their digital skills. Fast-paced technological progress will call for a quick response to a changing labour market. For this, life-long learning will be essential. E-learning platforms like Udacity will play a fundamental role in facilitating upskilling and keeping pace with digital transformations. To embrace the changes brought upon by the adoption of new technologies and to take advantage of digital platforms, workers will need to acquire solid digital skills and competencies.
Employers will also be critical for supporting the development of digital skills. The ability of a firm to leverage new technologies will be fundamental for business growth because technology will enable access to global markets and help create value. For this to happen, firms will have to promote a learning environment so that workers can improve their skills when necessary. This can be done through online platforms, but should be complemented with on-the-job-training.
The public sector will also play a central role in promoting access to digital skills development. The European Commission has already developed a Digital Competence Framework with eight proficiency levels, and the United Kingdom has launched the Essential Digital Skills Framework.
The Caribbean region is also making progress, as Jamaica has embarked on the development of a digital curriculum to help its citizens become digitally competent. The Jamaican government has also implemented a ‘Tablets in Schools’ programme that distributed 2,500 tablets to 38 educational institutions. Subsequent plans include a programme to improve teachers’ access to technology. Jamaica, in partnership with the private sector through its new skills development for the Global Services sector programme, is taking a step forward to anticipate and prepare for the impact of technology on its workforce.
Technological progress is transforming the labour market. It brings along challenges but also enormous opportunities for social and economic development. To take advantage of the digital wave, all actors — public and private — will need to be part of the equation and support the development of digital skills. In an increasingly connected world, being digitally competent is not an option. To remain a key player in the global market, it is imperative for the Caribbean region to keep up with the pace of digital transformation.
Eugenia de Diego is a consultant in the Labour Markets Division at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) where she specializes in skills development. Her recent experience includes programme design, implementation and research on training, technical education, public finance for skills development, life-long learning and skills strategies for technology-based sectors. She has worked in countries like Chile, Barbados, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago and she is currently part of the team implementing blockchain certificates in the Caribbean. Before joining the IDB, Eugenia was a business management consultant at Accenture in Argentina. She holds a BA in economics and a MA in development management from the University of London.
Diane Edwards is the President of Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO), a government agency that promotes business opportunities in export and investment to the local and international private sector. As a former Trade Commissioner for JAMPRO in New York, Brussels and London, Ms. Edwards has a wealth of knowledge and experience in international marketing and business development. She successfully managed product launches of Jamaican food brands into mainstream markets and conceived and negotiated substantial European Union funding for the innovative ‘Target Europe’ Trade Development Programme. Ms. Edwards holds an MBA from New York’s Pace University, a Masters in International Relations from Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris and a BA (Hons) in French, Spanish and German from the University of the West Indies (UWI).