Are digital skills overrated to thrive in the future?

The debate surrounding the digital skills gap has accelerated in recent years. However, depending on how the digital divide is perceived and which drivers are leading the debate, our focus might take a different direction. Only when we understand this and speak the same language we can propose solutions. And, those might have nothing to do with digital.

There are two main factors in the digital skills gap that affect different sectors and economies in different proportions. 

On the one hand, we see that the lack of digital skills among citizens in general prevents them from actively participating in society.  This relates to simple things that are obvious to certain groups, such as making online payments or connecting with others using digital platforms.  For example, even in a ‘developed’ region like Europe, with significant regional differences, only three out of ten EU citizens had this basic digital skills before the impact of the pandemic.

On the other hand, we see that this gap is also exacerbating the labour shortage in many countries due to the lack of well-educated graduates to fill digital positions in growing technology industries.  But it is not just in these fast-growing industries that digital skills are needed in employees; even in sectors such as retail and logistics, employees are increasingly required to carry out tasks that require digital skills.

Both factors play their part in the growth of individual companies and entire economies. As a result, according to the Future of Jobs Report 2020, the well-being of many individuals is under pressure. No less than 40% of the current workforce will need to upgrade their basic skills in the next 5 years in order to exercise their rights as digital citizens. Moreover, by 2025, 50% of the workforce will need to be upskilled to stay in employment.

Impressive figures that naturally create a sense of urgency, with initiatives related to re-skilling, up-skilling and learning being widely encouraged by organisations and governments worldwide.

What determines us to thrive in the future

The above-mentioned studies and the many initiatives indicate that digital skills must urgently be considered a priority for the future.  Yet, I wonder if digital skills alone are the answer to a nimble future and if other drivers are not equally important.

In a world of ever faster change, not only skills, but sometimes even more important competences, will be needed. An important distinction that is also mentioned in the WEF report “Building a Common Language for Skills at Work A Global Taxonomy”. For example; is leadership a skill or are we talking more about competencies? And more, what is the use of new digital skills in a world of ever faster change?  Just follow me in what I am trying to point out;

  • Skill: a particular task or activity in which someone is highly skilled. It is developed and perfected through practice and experience. Skills can be very relevant to the performance of a particular task but can just as quickly become useless in today’s world. 
  • Competence: a combination of knowledge, skills, attitude and personal characteristics that can be observed in behaviour. Here we mainly recognise the attitudes and character traits that distinguish and characterise a person and the attitude they have towards the world and their fellow human beings.

An example may be needed to clarify this. After an Excel or online payment course, an employee or citizen can hopefully sleep on both ears for six months. Yet the tantalising torment of a lifetime of compulsory learning continues to haunt him.  The fear remains that he or she will never know enough to do the job and to exercise rights as a digital citizen.  Without the competences I mentioned in an earlier article, such as curiosity, openness and resilience etc, learning and training will always require a heavy investment from all parties that will not always pay off.

Promoting a growth mindset and a positive attitude towards the future is a priority

The demand for more attention to human competences that support the learning of digital skills is gaining support. We see that at technical universities and study programmes worldwide, more and more attention is being paid to human competencies.  A development that I view very positively.

‘For some people failure is the end of the world – but for others, it’s this exciting new opportunity.’

Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University

Yet, I would like to make an urgent appeal to policy makers, entrepreneurs, teachers and parents (especially the last group), Because in a world of ever faster changes, skills and competences are important, but a growth mindset or a positive mindset is perhaps even more important for survival.  

People with a growth mindset have the feeling that their skills and competences can be improved with effort and perseverance. More than that, they have the ability to see possibilities and opportunities in situations that are problematic for others. They want to learn by having experiences, good or bad. Challenges and failures are not an obstacle to growth, but on the contrary, they give extra energy because they become better and better by learning. Failure with this mindset is seen as an accelerator for growth. This mindset will determine our future more like competencies and skills (which are relevant now). And contrary to popular belief, it is not inborn but is constantly influenced by our environment and can be nurtured at all ages.  


Learning Ecosystems explains how organizations evolve into LearnScapes where learning techniques are aligned with continuous interaction with the ecosystem they are part of. It explains how to upskill and reskill a workforce continuously in an increasingly collaborative and tech-enabled world. Full of practical guidance and strategic advice, this book covers how to take a lifelong approach to learning in the organization and the core competencies needed for this. It explains what to do when building a value and data-driven learning strategy and discusses the symbiosis of people and technology.

Pre-order Leaning Ecosystems

Executive workshops and inspiring keynotes are the ideal starting point for change and create the desired sense of urgency in your organisation. Katja Schipperheijn helps you to identify the levers to turn your organisation into a learning ecosystem, a learnscape, where people learn in a symbiosis with technology and create a culture for growth.

In this workshop We will use reverse engineering processes to capture an opportunity we want to capture with technology and how this solutions would integrate with your culture and other technologies to become increasingly nimble.

Published by Katja Habit Of Improvement

Lifelong learning and an unstoppable drive for innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship and philanthropy. Katja Schipperheijn is a digital learning strategist and internationally recognized consultant and keynote speaker on learning and engagement in the connected world. Her area of expertise focuses on the interaction of people and technology to achieve sustainable growth based on commitment and well-being. She has worked for more than 15 years with tech companies and learning organizations and holds a Master Degree in Economical Science, an Executive MBA from the Antwerp Management School and Digital Learning Strategy from MITSloan

2 thoughts on “Are digital skills overrated to thrive in the future?

  1. Hey Katja,
    Sterke diepgang ! Ivm ondernemerschap is mijn na 30 jaar project staffing en 6000 interviews van technisch personeel de conclusie dat creativiteit nr 1 is.
    Als je telkens ‘nieuwe dingen’ kunt toevoegen aan interessante bestaande die hun diensten hebben bewezen w je in je job steeds gelukkiger.
    Ik leg competenties dicht bij creativiteit.
    Indien je de diensten of het product niet of half begrijpt kan er geen creativiteit zijn.
    En dan … w het saai .
    Maar niet elke ondernemer heeft deze competentie.
    Digitalisering is ondergeschikt aan de gebruiker en kan nooit uitgroeien tot de absolute noodzaak.
    Bij de executive workshops zijn de screen meetings een katastroof voor de creativiteit. De emoties die rond de tafel zitten , nodig zijn en elkaar dienen te voeden zijn moeilijk te bekomen.
    De creativiteit kalft af in deze omstandigheden.
    In de digitale wereld is er teveel ‘joepie gevoel’ en te weinig realiteitszin. ‘Als het maar goed klinkt’!

    Like

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