Digital skills: How businesses and policymakers can respond to future demand in the labour market

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This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Sander van ‘t Noordende, CEO, Randstad Group, Stefano Scarpetta, Director, Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, OECD


  • Digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and cloud computing are reshaping the world of work and traditional jobs.
  • Companies need to ensure they too evolve and keep pace with these new trends in a labour market that increasingly relies on digital skills.
  • The Digital Skills Opportunity for All report outlines how businesses and individual can seize the opportunities offered by technology.

Digital technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT) and cloud computing are fundamentally reshaping the world of work.

The digitization of business is influencing how and where we work, and the jobs we will do in the future. Some traditional roles will vanish altogether, replaced by automation; others will see AI and machine learning being used in tandem to make humans more productive and insightful.

Some jobs of the future have yet to emerge, but there’s already plenty of evidence to show the impact digital technology is having on the workplace.

Digital Skills Opportunity for All is a new report from the Randstad and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It analyzes more than 400 million job postings published online in the last 10 years to highlight the labour market occupations and skills most in demand.

Demand for digital skills is increasing

Jobs requiring digital skills make up 6-12% of all vacancies posted online in the 10 countries covered by the report and this share is steadily increasing.

A quick breakdown of the data shows, for instance, that job postings for digital roles in the US increased by 24% between 2018 and 2021, led by a 116% increase in postings for data engineers.

The trend towards the digital workplace provides rich opportunities for employers and employees, but there are obvious challenges to meet and overcome along the way.

Business leaders will face stiff competition to hire and retain the best talent. Keeping track of labour market trends related to digital technology and skills will be crucial.

Regulators and governments, on the other hand, must invest in supporting the workforce to develop the necessary digital skills to thrive in future labour markets — identifying the most important competencies and the occupations that require them. Education systems will also need to adapt to ensure a digital-ready workforce emerges from schools, colleges and universities.

The analysis of online job postings identifies at least five areas where digital skills will play a key role:

1. Advanced data analytics

Advanced data skills such as machine learning or big data analytics are mentioned in job postings much more frequently than a decade ago and listed as a requirement in a much wider range of job and work contexts. The demand for these skills is permeating the labour market, spreading across different sectors and occupations 15.5 times faster than the demand for the average skill in the US.

2. Cybersecurity

The growing risk of cyberattacks has driven an increase in job postings looking for cybersecurity professionals. But knowledge of cybersecurity is required in a variety of different roles, from managerial occupations to analysts.

3. Programming

Business adoption of cloud and other digital technologies has led to a surging demand for programming skills across the board. Growing demand for specific scripting languages such as JavaScript or Python and software development principles is also being seen across the employment spectrum.

4. Automation and IoT

Producers of smart home products and wearable tech are driving the need for skills in automation and IoT. The demand for knowledge of computer-aided engineering software will continue to grow as IoT adoption spreads into new business sectors.

5. Digital business and sales skills

Demand for social media skills has been expanding rapidly but other digital skills such as web analytics or online marketing are also core to many sought-after digital occupations.

We need to reinvent the current workforce

In order to succeed in the era of AI and IoT, business, employers and employees will need to invest in wide-ranging reskilling efforts and changes in work practices. Workers will have to transition from roles in decline, into new, thriving jobs at the core of the digital workplace.

A key part of the transition process will be to map out declining and emerging roles and transition workers from the former to the latter. The new report leverages the granular information contained in online job postings to create pathways from occupations in decline to others that are thriving in the labour market.

The chart below, for instance, highlights the skills that will be needed to move from one to the other.

But while some career moves may be easier than others, the fast pace of technological change in the workplace requires organizations to find strategies for reskilling and upskilling that span the full duration of an employee’s career.

Policymakers, educators and companies will need to support individuals in skill development and, when needed, career transitions.

Short and targeted training paths and micro-credentials, for example, can provide adults with learning opportunities tailored to meet their needs. It’s important to recognize the time and financial barriers that many might face when retraining.

To attract and retain talent, companies need to offer their staff more than a desk and a pay cheque. Employees now expect a more holistic career experience, including meaningful work that aligns with their values. They also demand a schedule that allows them to stay healthy and spend time with their loved ones.

The remote working practices enabled by digital technology and established during the pandemic will continue to evolve. Companies need to ensure they too evolve and keep pace with these new trends in a labour market that increasingly relies on digital skills.

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