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We have witnessed a monumental digital transformation in the past decade as social media, smart devices, 4G and 5G internet, advanced analytics, cloud, artificial intelligence, among others, have seeped into the very fabric of how organizations conduct their business and drive their outreach. Businesses that progressively upgraded their systems, outlook and processes to embrace digital transformation, displaying agility in adapting to the digital ways, are already in a pole position, enjoying an advantage over their competitors.
While digital transformation was steadily making its way into our personal and professional lives, along came the pandemic and changed the world in more ways than one. Its impact on health, economy and society are alarmingly evident. However, one cannot subsume its role in bringing digital technologies to the forefront. Digital skills and tools emerged as indispensable components of the workplace as a vast populace remained confined to their homes for prolonged periods, owing to lockdowns of varying degrees, some sweeping and others localized.
Every aspect of human life moved from the physical world to the virtual world – work, education, essentials shopping, socializing, etc. Resultantly, technology companies, such as Amazon, Zoom, Instagram, TikTok, and Netflix, witnessed a never-before boom as people sought avenues to shop, stay entertained and connected – all from the comfort of their homes.
Many businesses moved to a remote work setting and used digital technologies to collaborate and maintain productivity. In turn, this made companies realize that they could only ensure employee productivity in a remote work environment if they possessed at least a rudimentary understanding of digital skills to easily adapt to digital tools.
Even though countries the world over have started vaccination drives to inoculate their populace, businesses are considering extending the remote work arrangements for the foreseeable future. This realization that the remote work setting is likely to continue for some more time brings us to the present-day status-quo where digital tools remain closely knit into our lives. The future looks bright only for those with the zeal to learn, upskill and reskill themselves with digital skills.
Digital skills are rapidly translating from “good to have” to “must have,” especially in the corporate world, just as soft skills emerged as a priority for companies a few years ago. The rapid digitization of skills has, on the one hand, opened new job opportunities. But, on the other hand, it has widened the chasm in the skill gaps, resulting in unfulfilled job openings and a glaring mismatch between aspirants and companies seeking employees.
The accelerated pace at which we are rushing toward digitization of businesses has primarily established that digital skill is an enabler. And that this enabler will help organizations undertake the digital transformation journey successfully, helping them emerge victoriously.
It is also evident that there is:
In this blog, we will delve deeper into the fundamentals of digital skills, the need for digitally competent employees, how to bridge the digital skills gap, and the role of digital skills assessment tools. Digital skills affect not only organizations but also educational institutions and policymakers. Hence, organizations do not acquire them in silos but through collective efforts, resulting in a trickledown.
Digital skills fuel the digital economy. Earlier, digital skills were needed by only a handful of people working in niche domains such as IT. But that perception is changing rapidly.
Digital skills are various skills and abilities that cumulatively enable an individual to communicate effectively, collaborate and solve problems using digital devices, applications, and tools for personal and professional fulfillment.
According to Cornell University, digital skills can be defined as “the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet.”
Digital skill is any skill that qualifies a person to become digitally literate. From using the Uber app to call a cab to ordering food from a food delivery app, from responding to an email to accessing your files on Google Drive, digital skills are ubiquitous. Digital skills are no longer confined to white-collar jobs and have percolated into the blue-collar job market. However, there are varying stages of digital skills, starting with basic skills, intermediate, and then advanced.
PMGDISHA (Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyaan), a GoI initiative, aims to bridge the digital divide by reaching around 40% of India’s rural households. Likewise, the US Digital Literacy program empowers teachers and other education sector stakeholders to effectively integrate technology into their teaching. Similarly, every country has their programs, which are intended to make their citizens digitally literate.
However, digital skills are the future of employment, and thus necessary measures need to be taken to ensure relevance. The demand for digitally skilled workers is increasing continually, and acquiring these skills is critical for excelling in a digital economy.
While I can enumerate the importance of digital skills in many ways, let me corroborate by citing a great example. Dr. Lal PathLabs is a leading pathology lab and diagnostic healthcare service provider in India. Dr. Lal PathLabs has digitized its services by applying insights and cutting-edge technology to create value for all stakeholders while yielding greater economies of scale.
The company started like any other pathology lab, providing a host of medical tests at its labs and onsite and report collection after that. Then came the era of home sample collection, toward which the company pivoted quickly. While the organization was an established service provider, stiff competition necessitated setting itself apart through innovation. So, Dr. Lal PathLabs digitized its entire process using a centralized information technology platform that fully integrated all its networks and provided all the necessary information in one place. Right from the time when a sample was collected, the process was recorded on its app for the customer to track. It offered digital reports on the app, offering an additional feature. The app also kept records of the customers’ test results, enabling hassle-free tracking of their health indices.
Dr. Lal PathLabs automated its processes, analyzed and provided better data insights to the customer, thus guaranteeing competitive advantage and customer retention. In the process, Dr. Lal PathLabs ensured digital upskilling of all its employees, right from the sample collectors who would create the customers’ profiles and start the digital process to the technicians who processed the samples and gave the go-ahead to generate the reports. And, lastly, the app team that used data analysis to offer cohesive insights to the customer.
Dr. Lal PathLabs’s example encompasses all levels of digital skills, from basic skills, in which a sample collector was trained to advance digital skills that the app backend team used.
There are many examples of digital transformation – where businesses have acquired digital skills through recruitment or training.
Digital skills are important in the digital transformation process of a modern workplace for the following reasons:
Updating an employee's digital skills assures that there are no unproductive gaps in their line of work and that work occurs most effectively and efficiently. Besides, digital skills are closely linked to business productivity, which means the digital skills of every employee push businesses closer to achieving their productivity goals.
Look around, and you will see a world of technological advancements. Global businesses are operating digitally, a trend that has gained further momentum owing to the pandemic. So, any company that takes the initiative to upgrade its employees’ digital skills has an advantage over its competitors.
"Working smart” is the motto of digital skills. Increasing productivity in the workplace has little to do with putting in long work hours. It's employees’ creativity that counts. The digital world is exploding with opportunities for improvisation and innovation. It is a watershed moment for organizations to use digital transformation as a platform and boost their growth.
Imagine you operate an e-commerce business. Now, a customer bought something from your online store, but you don’t have integrated tracking mechanisms for customers to track their products, which means they have to call you or mail you for a status update. In the digital age, do you think the customer wants to make an effort to procure a product? Digital transformation and digital skills are not just about better productivity, competitive advantage and innovation. They are equally about delivering better customer services. Since digital transformation is not limited to the workplace, customers, too, expect superior services.
Digital skills are the linchpin of modern workplaces. An increasing number of sub-skills are now becoming a part of the digital skills umbrella. So much so that it is getting difficult to figure out the skills that may or may not be required for a job. For instance, you may feel that researchers, social media managers, public relations experts do not need to know MS Excel. However, it is used in most modern workplaces irrespective of the employees’ job profiles.
Digital skills are considered next to other necessary skills, such as effective communication, collaboration, etc., to thrive in the present-day marketplace. At first, only tech organizations realized the importance of digital skills. However, now organizations of all hues are pacing toward a digitally skilled workforce.
In modern workplaces, it is impossible to function without digital skills because all or most work employs the internet, which means that all employees should possess fundamental digital skills. However, employees can’t stop at basic digital skills for most organizations, as they will not suffice. They need to have role-specific digital skills that organizations can further develop into advance digital skills.
The pandemic has already forced many businesses to shift to the digital mode, which is leading to the demand for digitally skilled workers. With the digital economy taking center stage, the demand for digital skills will continue to grow. This change will result in the automation of some professions, simultaneously creating a greater demand for professionals with advanced digital skills.
The World Economic Forum in 2019 noted that “133 million new roles generated as a result of the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms may emerge globally by 2022.”
With digital skills being the buzzword, we have compiled an exhaustive list of advanced digital skills that are gaining momentum and demand as the world pivots toward the digital age.
According to the World Economic Forum, the most in-demand digital skills include big data analytics, app and web-enabled markets, the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning and cloud computing, etc.
Advanced digital skills for the workplace are taking businesses by storm. Here’s a digital skills list of the top 15 digital skills for work in technology, marketing, big data & product management domains:
Technology is at the heart of many new-age businesses. It is a vast universe with an endless list of advanced digital skills trending currently.
Coding is one of the foundations for many next-gen technologies. Hence is a vital digital skill. Coding is at the core of machine learning and virtual reality, among others. In fact, coding adds value to many other roles, such as digital marketing, compliance and risk management, quality assurance, etc. Coding is not just an in-demand digital skill but also teaches you problem-solving skills.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are impacting every aspect of the business. One of the most innovative and trailblazing additions to technology, they are the future. Also, their usage isn’t restricted to tech companies. But they have several applications, covering healthcare, finance, education, etc. AI & ML can be used for anything- from improving customer service to increasing sales, among others.
Businesses are shifting from the traditional framework to cloud-enabled infrastructure to promote better connectivity and provide a suitable environment for remote working and collaboration. Additionally, it enables watertight data security.
Cloud service providers, such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and Alibaba Cloud, are changing how businesses operate in the digital age. Thus, employees with advanced digital skills in cloud and distributed computing are becoming necessary for new-age organizations.
Network and information security are becoming critical to conducting business, with increasing access to technology. Large organizations are at greater risk of cybersecurity attacks and data breaches, especially with increased flexibility in the place of work. While organizations often provide basic training in information security to all their employees, network security is a larger domain where the demand outweighs the supply.
Every organization has a marketing team that drives various marketing and awareness campaigns to draw potential customers. While it may look like an all-creative field, marketing has digitized swiftly due to the omnipresence and all-pervasiveness of the internet and social media.
Marketing has advanced from newspaper ads and now aims to enhance the user experience through meaningful and engaging content, data visualization, email and social media campaigns, etc. Digital marketing uses digital skills such as search engine optimization, social media promotions, Google analytics, and other marketing automation software packages.
People have easy access to technology, which has increased awareness and created more sophisticated customers. This development means that digital marketing, too, needs to use technology to become more visible to customers. It is natural for customers to go through an organization’s social media handle or do a quick Google search before considering its products or services or interacting with it. These customer nuances underline the importance of various digital marketing skills.
“The customer experience has evolved. The buyer’s journey has evolved, which is one of the key elements driving the growing relevance of digital skills. Traditionally, disruptive ad messaging was delivered to customers by television, radio, or print advertising. They now wield power, searching the internet for knowledge to assist them in solving their problems, identifying answers, and selecting the best one. This trend has put a premium on businesses’ ability to sell themselves online in order to reach this new generation of customers. Of course, to do so, your company will require a diverse set of digital talents, ranging from the ability to submit material to your website and social media to a working knowledge of SEO.” – Jill Sandy, Founder, Constant Delights.
Data science and data analytics is another upcoming digital skill due to its viability in a range of industries, from banking or software to professional services or finance.
With the focus on efficiency, companies across the board use data science and analytics to make smarter decisions and offer their customers more innovative solutions by preempting their needs.
With digital transformation already picking up pace, digital business skills like data analysis and data science are a few of the most in-demand digital skills. In fact, data science and data analysis are at the core of enabling your organization to undertake digital transformation by creating a digital ecosystem of technologies to fuel the growth in the digital economy.
With multiple digital touchpoints gathering data, data analysts and scientists can help your business through rich insights. Right from digital marketing to supply chain management, data analytics and data science are the future of ‘digital.’
If a product is at the core of your business, then it will also need to pivot with other business functions. The digital economy needs products that can survive in the digital world, borrow from the digital milieu, and thrive in the digital environment. Organizations may need digital product managers that liaison between multiple teams to ensure a successful digital product.
“Unlike a traditional project manager, the digital counterpart requires a thorough understanding of programming, design, and the associated technological interfaces.” – Jeroen Van Gils, Managing Director, Lifi.co.
The digital skills gap is the gap in the skills of the workforce and the skills needed to thrive in the future of work. The digital skills gap occurs, especially in developing countries, because of the education sector’s inability to keep up with technological advancements. Resultantly, students are unable to find jobs or keep up with the changing demands of the job market.
The digital skills gap can be further classified into gaps pertaining to basic, intermediate and advanced digital skills. The lack of basic digital skills can be accorded to the quality of education – all education stakeholders, learners or educators, face a significant digital skills gap because of archaic pedagogies. The skills gap in intermediate digital skills is because of a lack of timely training and intervention at the higher education and work level. The digital skills gap in advanced digital skills can be due to the lack of initiatives at an individual and organizational level.
The pandemic has, in some ways, increased the digital skills gap, egging people to think whether this ongoing disruption will create more jobs or destroy them. However, the answer to it is ‘maybe neither.’
The rise of technology bringing about the future of work and responsible for the digital skills gap might redefine jobs and offer everyone an opportunity to learn, unlearn and relearn for better economic prospects.
Digital reskilling and upskilling are the only solutions to the digital skills gap conundrum. So, digital upskilling and reskilling are great opportunities for employees to reinvent themselves. However, the scale at which it is required puts the onus on organizations to invest in training and save a large part of the workforce from becoming obsolete.
The pandemic may have slowed down organizations’ hiring efforts. However, jobs in digital skills continue to grow. So, organizations’ primary choice is between recruiting or reskilling. But even if you hire a new workforce today, there is no guarantee that the workforce’s skills will stay relevant 5 years later. Essentially, digital upskilling and reskilling are initiatives that organizations need to undertake on priority to stay ahead of the curve while there’s still time.
Digital skills can be imparted through different means; however, for any organization to take up the digital upskilling initiative, it needs access to specialized digital skills assessment to understand the employees’ standing, where their gaps lie, and the quantum of training needed.
A digital skills assessment is a specialized assessment designed to measure a particular digital competency or sub-skill. No one assessment can measure all digital skills given its vastness. Digital skills assessment can be role or skill-based. For example, there can be a digital skills assessment for a sales manager or a digital skill assessment to assess a candidate’s knowledge of Zoho.
Digital skills gaps require organizations to understand employees’ current standing. After your organization has a digital transformation plan, assessing the employees’ digital readiness is the next step. Are they ready to be upskilled or reskilled or facing some resistance? Based on the results, each team can have a digital upskilling or digital reskilling plan that considers their digital readiness levels.
Mercer | Mettl’s digital skills assessments span over 500 skills, 1500 job roles and 40 industries, with a pool of subject matter experts to create assessments as per your organizational needs.
Mercer | Mettl’s digital skills assessments cover sales, marketing, HR, operations, accounting, finance, and administrative functions in industries ranging from retail, BPO, media and advertising, banking and finance, blue-collared jobs, etc. From general skills, such as knowledge of Microsoft Office, to role-specific skills, such as Facebook marketing and Google analytics, etc., Mercer | Mettl’s digital skills assessments go beyond MCQs and help your organization gauge functional knowledge of employees.
Mercer | Mettl closely studies organizational objectives, the roles under consideration, then creates assessments that cater to those specific roles and generic competencies. Mercer | Mettl has a team of experts and a library of tests that easily cater to a broad spectrum of intermediate and advanced digital skills. Mercer | Mettl has also played an instrumental role in partnering with the Government of India for digital reskilling through the PMGDISHA initiative, thus helping augment digital literacy in the country.
With its ready framework of digital competencies, you can choose from our existing library of digital skills tests or customize it to your specific needs.
Mercer | Mettl has always helped bridge the digital skills gap, whether on an organizational level or as part of the government initiative. Mercer | Mettl’s prowess and expertise lie in conducting complex and large-scale digital assessments that have had a transformational impact.
Mercer | Mettl recently partnered with Telkom Indonesia to determine the digital skills gap of over 10,000 employees and align them with the organization’s digital vision. The digital skills assessments helped Telkom Indonesia create a future-ready talent strategy and workforce. Mercer | Mettl’s customized digital skills assessment enabled Telkom Indonesia to assess employees on more than 75 skills and competencies. The partnership enabled an in-depth and holistic understanding of every employee’s standing on the competencies, especially on the required digital skills. Telkom Indonesia was able to identify skill gaps for every employee and focus on digital reskilling using digital skills assessments.
Modern workplaces are designed to be responsive to market trends. Thus, it is impossible to ignore digital technologies. However, since education has still not caught up with workplace skills, employees need secondary training to acquire digital skills and fully utilize related technologies for better productivity.
The rapid advancement in technology needs to be emulated in the initiatives for digital upskilling and reskilling. With the changing nature of work and consumers, organizations need to embrace the digital ecosystem to ensure their offerings remain relevant.
Since digital skills is an umbrella term, every organization’s digital skills gap will be unique and need a customized digital upskilling strategy.
To get started, organizations must first accept that digital transformation is not a vague and futuristic concept. It is here and now, and you cannot address it only by hiring a new workforce. It mandates continuous development efforts. While digital upskilling is a challenging task, the first step is to employ digital skills assessment tools to gauge the present level of digital skills and create a development path.
Addressing the digital skills gap today can benefit your organization immensely in the long run and separate you from your competitors. The most significant aspect of conducting a digital skills gap is not the execution but determining the missing digital skills or the required ones. For that, your organization needs to conduct a training need analysis and create a digital competency framework that provides you with all the answers.
Here are some examples of digital skills:Basic digital skills: The ability to send emails, store data, protect sensitive information such as passwords, access content on different devices, use search engines, transact online using secure payment methods, etc.,Intermediate digital skills: The ability to use social media to connect with people, organize digital information and functional knowledge of Microsoft Office, etc.,Advanced digital skills: Digital marketing, coding and programming, data analysis, etc.
All jobs today need digital skills. Whether it is blue-collar, white-collar, or CXO-level jobs, digital skills are the present and future of employment. Digital reskilling can empower individuals to access better job opportunities.
Digital skills can be measured through digital skills assessment tools. Digital skills assessment tools are created considering the objective and roles and measure intermediate and advanced digital skills needed to perform a specific job role.
Originally published August 12 2021, Updated August 20 2021
Bhuvi is a content marketer at Mercer | Mettl. She's helped various brands find their voice through insightful thought pieces and engaging content. When not scandalizing people with her stories, you’ll find her challenging gender norms, dancing to her own tune, and crusading through life, laughing.
The accelerated pace at which businesses are rushing toward digitization has primarily established that digital skills are an enabler. It has also established the ever-changing nature of digital skills, and created a need for continuous digital upskilling and reskilling to protect the workforce from becoming obsolete.