Digital skills are key to sustainable growth in today’s economy. They lead to more jobs and higher pay. And yet the rapid pace of technological change is leaving massive skills gaps in its wake.
Globally, some 10 million jobs requiring advanced digital skills, such as data science, coding, cybersecurity, Internet of Things and mobile app development, are going unfilled because employers cannot find staff with the requisite skills.
That’s why a growing number of countries and organizations have included digital skills training as part of their overall strategy to grow their national digital economies.
Representatives from Bangladesh, Uruguay, the European Commission, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and ITU joined a panel discussion Wednesday at the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-17) in Buenos Aires to exchange experiences and best practices for how to equip young people with digital skills.
“The new industrial revolution is disrupting business … and digital skills are becoming crucial,” said Daniel Spoiala, National Expert to the European Commission (EC).
He explained that creating digital skills is an important focus of the Digital Single Market strategy that the EC started two years ago. He added that Europe is facing a problem with youth unemployment and that 43% of Europeans don’t have basic digital skills. Furthermore, 10-25% of teachers are not trained to teach these skills, he said.
“Every job in the future will be linked in some way to digital skills.” — Tanmay Bakshi
Europe currently has some 1.5M people working in the digital economy, but by 2020, Europe will face a 750,000 shortfall of skills due to rapid tech changes.
He said that all stakeholders have a strong interest in addressing this issue and that the EC aimed to bring government, private sector and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) together to hit the target of training some 1 million people by 2020. He also mentioned that there is an agreement that each of the 28 member states will develop a digital skills strategy that includes mainstreaming digital skills in education.
So how are governments in other parts of the world tackling the digital skills gap?
Shahjahan Mahmood, Chairman of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission told the audience that Bangladesh’s youth policy prioritizes digital skills, including a mandate for ICT education in all schools.
The country’s digitalization program has trained some 180,000 teachers in how to teach digital skills, he said. Also, they have launched programs to train girls and young women in ICT skills, especially in rural areas.
“The digitalization program is going at full speed,” he said, adding that Bangladesh’s Vision 2021 aims to “catapult” Bangladesh into a strong middle-income country with a focus on digital skills. “We carefully monitor the market and develop market-driven policy. We talk too much about developing digital skills for youth, but we don’t talk enough about developing the markets where youth will be employed.”
During the discussion, Fiorella Haim, General Manager of Plan Ceibal, told the audience how the Uruguayan initiative is introducing ICT in primary public education.
After helping to provide almost every public-school elementary child in Uruguay with a laptop and internet connectivity, Plan Ceibal is now helping schools use ICTs to teach a range of subjects.
“The challenge we are facing now is the inclusion of computational thinking in the curriculum,” said Ms Haim, explaining ‘computational thinking’ as a way to solve complex problems by breaking them into smaller parts, finding patterns and designing algorithms to solve them.
The emphasis on hands-on tech labs and using tech to solve problems helps engage students more so they don’t drop out of school, which is a big problem in Uruguay, she said, adding that high school students work with IT companies on 9-month program to teach coding, which is followed by internship at IT company.
Panelists also discussed the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth, launched by ILO, ITU and twenty other United Nations agencies.
To further the Global Initiative, ITU and ILO have launched the Digital Skills for Decent Jobs for Youth (www.itu.int/digitalskills) campaign to train 5 million youth worldwide with job-ready digital skills.
This work contributes to achieving SDG 8 and supports employers across a range of industries to fill their growing talent gap.
This will be especially important as emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) will only accelerate the trend,
Tanmay Bakshi – a 13-year-old software developer and AI enthusiast who developed his first app at the tender age of 9 – helped bring a student’s perspective to what is needed.
“Our need for technology is going to grow exponentially,” said Tanmay Bakshi, adding that the skills gap will also grow with it. “Every job in the future will be linked in some way to digital skills.”
Digital skills training is very important, said Tanmay, because it can close the educational gap and the unemployment gap at the same time. “Governments can kill two birds with one stone,” said Tanmay.
ITU has just published a book titled ICT-centric economic growth, innovation and job creation, which provides a roadmap and practical strategies to utilize advances in ICTs to promote social and economic development.
Written by leading scholars and experts from around the world, the book addresses the opportunities offered by ICT in the area of innovation, governance, education, job creation and economic growth.
“I highly recommend that all stakeholders, including policymakers, regulators, operators, and investors, as well as people in industry and academia, read and use the findings of this study, which sheds light on some of the greatest opportunities ICTs have to offer the world today,” said ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau Director Brahima Sanou.
The publication was launched in Buenos Aires, Argentina, during a high-level Ministerial Roundtable on the topic of leveraging ICTs for the SDGs organized in recognition of the 25th Anniversary of the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D).
“We need to recognize the fact that in the ICT world as we accelerate things, skills are not static. We have to change the way we think about skills development,” said Dr. William Lehr of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and co-editor of the book during the launch. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in a sector that’s adopting ICTs rapidly or if you’re in a market that is not, because wherever you are, you will be affected by this. And if you don’t deal with this in a positive way and try and address this head on, you’ll be road kill on the next 25 years development.”