Digital skills are the new currency

Danial Norjidi

A recent report has found that the hiring of workers with digital skills has grown significantly in the last three years across the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) region.

The APEC Closing the Digital Skills Gap Report – Trends and Insights by the APEC Human Resources Development Working Group features research by LinkedIn and Burning Glass Technologies, and reveals that the digital hiring rate across the region increased three-fold between 2016 and 2019.

It was shared that while the COVID-19 pandemic led to a hiring slowdown in the first quarter of 2020, continued strong demand was seen for digital talent, with a greater than one-fold increase in March 2020 as compared to the previous year.

According to the report, “digitalisation, the process of employing digital technologies and information to transform business operations, is a prevailing force in all economies studied in this report.

“Some economies, such as Singapore and Canada experience very high rates of digitalisation, while others, such as New Zealand, experienced slower rates of digitalisation. However, the trend of digitalisation and the creative destruction that comes along with it has taken place to some extent in each economy examined and is likely to increase due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In all economies, it is important for workers to possess digital skills to increase opportunities for finding gainful employment, now and in the future.”

For the report, LinkedIn examined digital skill hiring trends by sector and relative digital skill penetration rates of LinkedIn members, differences between digital skills in high-growth firms – defined as those with at least a 20-per-cent growth in headcount over the last three years – and other firms, as well as gaps between digital skill supply and demand.

LinkedIn explored 10 economies (the United States (US), Singapore, Philippines, New Zealand, Mexico, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Canada, and Australia) and grouped digital skills into four categories: basic digital literacy such as accessing email and using basic applications such as spreadsheets; applied such as technical support, animation, and social media; software and hardware including development, computing and networking; and disruptive tech, which include artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, robotics and developing new tools.

LinkedIn’s findings included that in developing economies, the demand for digitally skilled workers has been growing much faster than supply. It was also found that among LinkedIn members, the rate of hiring individuals with digital talents was fastest (looking at month-on-month change) in New Zealand, Singapore and the US.

In addition, the demand for different types of digital skills varies by industry and economy, suggesting that different sectors are going through different phases of digital transformation in each economy.

Meanwhile, Burning Glass Technologies analysed the economies of the US, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Canada and categorised digital skills into baseline and six specialised areas.

Baseline digital skills are readily transferrable, with a definition that is comparable to LinkedIn’s basic skills categories. Specialised skills are grouped into customer relationship management, digital design and marketing, machining and manufacturing data analysis, computer and networking support, and software and programming.

Burning Glass Technologies also classified the ratio of job postings in each economy as low, middle, and high skill based on the amount of preparation required, which provides helpful context within and across the APEC economies. Their analysis shows that as the skill level of the job posting increased in each economy, so did the likelihood that the job posting was for a digital occupation.

Additionally, they looked at changes in digital index between 2013 and 2019. This metric calculates the state of digitalisation using two components: Digital skills required by employers and the cost to achieve those skills. They found all economies to follow a similar pattern except for New Zealand, which showed minimal or negative change between 2013 and 2019 and suggested a unique presence of factors in New Zealand’s economy or industry composition.

Among Burning Glass Technologies’ findings was that baseline digital skills are in high demand and highly transferrable, and that seven out of 10 job postings in the economies studied are in digital occupations. The research also found that digitalisation and remote work are often interrelated, and that occupations that are more digital are likely to pay higher wages than other occupations.

It is stated that the data in the report will provide APEC economies with information to help them better understand their digital skill landscapes and will support their efforts to craft responsive economic and employment policies and strategies.

Chair of the APEC Human Resources and Development Working Group Professor Park Dong-sun said, “Digitalisation offers us many opportunities and challenges, the most pressing one is to address and manage the discrepancy between industry and education and training systems, where the former moves and innovates a lot faster than the latter.

“COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation and adoption in almost all aspects of our lives, it is extremely critical for policymakers to look into measures to support the upskilling and reskilling of our workforce.”

According to a press release, the report stresses the importance of reskilling workers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as many are looking for new opportunities, and it is “necessary to have at least baseline digital skills”. It is also critical to equip new workers with digital skills so they can thrive in the workforce.

It also states that, as businesses are forced to adjust to a more digital work environment, workers may need to expand their skillset to be able to work efficiently and effectively from home or other locations.

In addition to efforts to measure the digital skills gap, also announced was the finalisation of a digital readiness checklist designed to help APEC governments, employers, and academia understand their levels of preparedness for jobs in the digital age and to support their efforts to upskill and reskill workers amidst COVID-19.

Andrew Tein of Wiley, co-chair of the APEC Closing the Digital Skills Gap Forum said, “Digital skills and remote work have become critical to retaining employment and to economic survival, with occupations requiring higher levels of digital skills more likely to offer remote work opportunities during these challenging times.”

The press release highlights that the COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed the risks for those whose jobs are least digital, such as workers in the frontline service sector. It notes that as these least digital jobs are also least open to remote work, workers in this sector are negatively affected, and adds that this dichotomy may deepen inequality if they do not have the necessary digital skills to transition to other jobs.

Jennifer Thornton of the Business-Higher Education Forum and the co-chair of the APEC Closing the Digital Skills Gap Forum said, “We must come together to prepare the current and next generation of workers to have the digital skills necessary to succeed in the new economy.

“A skilled workforce is key to our continued success and to increasing opportunity across APEC economies.”