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The Importance of Digital Skills in the Modern Workplace

See also: Transferable Skills

In the modern workplace, digital skills are highly valued; in the future, digital skills will be vital.

The digital age is expanding into all areas of our lives, and it is not just those who work in IT that will need to be alert of this change. The House of Lords have stated that digital skills should be taught as a third core subject, and treated with same importance as numeracy and literacy.1

They went on to claim that access to the internet, in the UK, should considered as important as access to water or electricity. Added to this there is the claim that digital skills are entering all areas of work 2; medicine, entertainment, communication and retail are all turning into fields where digital skills are a must.

However, it is not simply the development of old jobs that make digital skills so important in the modern workplace, but the creation of entirely new jobs. There is a genuine fear of a digital skills gap3 created by the boom in the digital economy versus the amount of people who are trained to work in it. Specifically, the UK needs 750,000 more people with digital skills to capitalise on jobs that could boost the UK economy by 12 billion pounds.

The digital skills gap should not be something to be afraid of. Rather, it is an opportunity for people of all ages – not just young people – to jump into a new sector or to get a better job in their current one. Half of all British IT teachers don’t have a post-A-level qualification that is relevant to IT, and so schools are eager for teachers who have any kind of degree related to computing4. Being a person with digital skills, in the current economic climate, has never been more lucrative.

Moreover, attaining these digital skills has never been easier. School coding clubs and professional training companies5 are happy to fill the gap left by the public sector in terms of digital skills, but there are also ways in which a person can develop their digital skills individually. There are programs and services you can use to make sure that you make the most out of your computer. Having a computer desktop that you can navigate quickly and efficiently is fast becoming more important than having a tidy desk.


What Exactly are Digital Skills?

When considering the digital skills gap, this question is not asked often enough.

Cornell University defines digital literacy as ‘the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet’6.

By this definition, digital skills are any skills related to being digitally literate. Anything from the ability to find out your high-score on Minesweeper to coding a website counts as a digital skill.

What Digital Skills do I Need for the Modern Workplace?

Knowing how to answer your emails, to access a company’s files on Google Drive, or to tweak a website’s code are all digital skills that are increasingly sought after in today’s job market.

However, in the modern workplace, it is increasingly impossible to point out which digital skills you may or may not need. There is no hard and fast rule about which jobs you will need to Excel for and which jobs you will not. Digital literacy is a language; the more digital skills you have, the better you can speak it. This metaphor struck a chord with noted digital writer Marc Prensky who coined the terms ‘digital immigrant’ and ‘digital native’.

To the uninitiated, learning digital skills can make a person feel like they are entering a new country full of new customs. Digital skills come with their own set of sub-skills after all.

Which Jobs Require Digital Skills?

The job search website Indeed has listed HTML5, MongoDB, iOS, Android and Mobile App as the fastest growing keywords found in online posts for jobs.

Coding is a job related to all of these keywords, and it is evidently an industry that is booming, but it is not the only job that requires digital skills. Marketing, customer service, retail, managing, writing and selling are all jobs associated with these keywords and all of those jobs could well require digital skills.

In short, it is safe to assume that almost all jobs will require some level digital skills. Even if they do not, it is wise for jobseekers to insure themselves against the rising need for digital skills in the workplace.

What about Automation?

Automation is the fear that, due to the digital skills gap, employers will utilise automated technology in order to fill this gap.

This fear is not unfounded7, and there are many examples throughout history where technology has replaced jobs that were once done by people. But automation should not be seen as something to be afraid of. Rather, our worry about automation should be the reasoning behind embracing digital skills in whatever way we can.

As a result, there are three things that we should be doing.

Firstly, we should be encouraging governments towards legislation that encourages the teaching of digital literacy.

Secondly, we should be supporting companies that are attempting to fill the digital teaching gap that the government has left.

Finally, as individuals we need to make sure that our digital skillset is as wide as possible for future needs.


How will Digital Skills Change the Workplace?

It is not uncommon for journalists to research, plan, write, proofread and send an article to a publisher all using their mobile phone or tablet.8

In some senses, digital skills make the workplace a freer and simpler place to navigate. A lot of work can now be done from home, or on the move, but this also brings its own set of challenges.

A consumer expects more from a company knowing that technology has made everything so much faster.

About the Author


Phillip Burton is the founder of Filecats, an online company that provides a file cataloguing and metadata extracting services for computers. He is also a computing consultant providing expert services in the development of computer systems and data analysis.

References:

  1. UK Parliament, Select Committee on Digital Skills Report, Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future, 2015.
  2. Young people need to hone their digital skills for futureproof careers. The Guardian, 12 August 2014.
  3. Digital economy needs 750,000 workers. The Telegraph, 3 September 2013.
  4. Digital skills teaching in schools needs radical rethink, says report. The Guardian, 17 February 2015.
  5. A UK digital skills gap looms. The Guardian, 18 August 2014.
  6. Cornell University Digital Literacy Resource.
  7. Humans Need Not Apply. YouTube.
  8. Mobile reporting: 15 Android apps for journalists. Jounalist.co.uk, 17 August 2012.
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