Digital Skills Insights: ITU drives skills debate to help ensure that existing inequalities are not exacerbated, and everyone can profit fully from the benefits of digital transformation

New insights call for an urgent need to develop the global skills needed to address new risks, new jobs and new technologies.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has released the 2020 edition of “Digital Skills Insights, a collection of articles by international experts on the impact of digital transformation on capacity and skills development. In eight articles, the publication reviews the interrelationship between digital connectivity and digital skills, as well as the correlation with education, gender, digital divides and the transformative aspects within the labour market. None of these should be addressed in isolation but be part of a holistic approach to ensure countries’ successful transition to a digital economy.

“Digital Skills Insights” 2020 provides a body of knowledge that will facilitate academic research and innovation; inform policy debates and decisions among policy-makers and regulators; and help the private sector to anticipate and plan for human capital requirements and skills.

“The vital importance of digital skills to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals has been brought into sharp perspective during the COVID-19 crisis”, said Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General. “The expert contributions in ‘Digital Skills Insights’  are helping to ensure that digital skill gaps do not exacerbate existing inequalities.”

According to ITU data, in 2019, 46 per cent of the world population was not using the Internet.[i] This number increases to almost 80 per cent in least developed countries. A large majority of the global population (93 per cent) lives in an area covered by at least a 3G mobile signal/service, [ii] however, the lack of skills is a barrier for many to use the Internet’s full potential.[iii]

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) said: “In the wake of COVID–19, the importance of digital skills has never been so evident, nor so urgent. Those lucky enough to enjoy fast connectivity took refuge from the global health emergency by moving to a virtual environment for economic continuity, education, and interpersonal contact. However, those lacking access to digital networks and skills were left even further behind. I hope this publication stimulates important discussions on the best strategies to rapidly strengthen the capacities and skills required to profit fully from the benefits of digital transformation.”
How to address digital skills gaps

“Digital Skills Insights” provides concrete suggestions and recommendations on how some of these challenges can be addressed to better understand and bridge the digital divide, such as:

  • Governments, businesses, educational systems and society need to work together to support a dynamic workforce and constantly redefine the skills demanded by future jobs.
  • Further training and retraining will be necessary since employees will have to engage in lifelong learning if they are to be capable of responding to changes in skills requirements triggered by automation and digitization.
  • Data literacy among citizens should be tackled by policy makers and practitioners through targeted data literacy programmes to enhance citizens’ abilities to participate in the digital society.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, building human capital, specifically in digital skills, is critical for the region to leverage the benefits of the digital economy.
  • Female participation in digital skills capacity development programmes can be increased by including more women in the programme design, reaching out to parents and community leaders in the recruitment of participants, and engaging female career role models.
  • Bridging the digital gender gap relies on gender-responsive ICT policy and therefore the digital capabilities of policy-makers need to be strengthened for them to better understand the barriers to Internet access women face, and to equip them with the tools to promote more gender-inclusive public policy.

Note to Editors:
The 2020 edition of “Digital Skills Insights” covers four thematic areas. The first two articles analyse the type of digital skills needed in the digital economy and future labour market, and how they can be obtained.

The third and fourth articles examine new jobs that have been created and the associated digital skills requirements, such as those related to AI automation or to transportation platforms as part of the gig economy.

A fifth article explores data literacy and the use of online information, stressing the necessity for citizens to learn how to critically assess the quality of information that is circulated.

The three final articles focus on gender and digital skills, covering the digital gender divide and the gender skills gap. The articles illustrate successful programmes and opportunities that address these issues.

All eight articles stress the importance of strengthening and enhancing digital skills to successfully manage the accelerated use of digital devices within social and economic activities. Those skills range from basic to advanced digital skills and must be evenly distributed among populations and gender.

The publication is available on the ITU Academy platform.

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