Deep Dives

Closing The Digital Skills Gap

Roughly 50% of workers’ current activities — the equivalent of $15 trillion in global wages — could be automated by adopting current technologies, according to a briefing for corporate leaders compiled by the World Economic Forum.

That said, new research quoted by the Forum suggests that 96% of all workers whose jobs are threatened by technology could find similar or better work with adequate training.

The briefing, entitled “Enabling Employees to Thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” urges executives to start preparing their workforce for the jobs of the future.

The Forum is planning to offer a concrete way for companies to do just that. It is launching an app in April that will teach the basic skills it says any person will need in the digital economy. Users will have access free- of-charge to up-to-date, self-paced training materials designed by global IT companies, says Alan Marcus, the Forum’s head of Technology, Media and Digital Industries.

The courses range from general business skills to introductory digital literacy to more advanced topics such as cybersecurity, Big Data or the Internet of Things. The portal — which will be called SkillSET and be accessible through a mobile app — will offer a tailored skills assessment to help users determine which coursework is the best fit.

At press time “thousands of people” from 66 countries had already pre-registered for the free courses, which are aimed at both white collar and blue collar workers, says Adam Sherman, The Forum’s Community Lead for the Information Technology Industry.

“We have identified eight specific skill sets that we think all industries will need in the future,” says Sherman, a former president of the Highland Park, New Jersey, Board of Education. “While the platform is industry agnostic one of the sectors we want to zero in on is the manufacturing sector, which impacts a lot of workers globally. But we will also target sectors that will experience an equally significant impact from workforce changes, such as financial and legal services,”

The initiative, which is committed to reaching one million people with resources and training opportunities on the SkillSET portal by January 2021, was discussed as part of the ministerial agenda at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Feb. 28-March 1.

“The Forum is great at catalyzing action around specific topics,” says Sherman. “We are hoping to grow the SkillSET platform which will be singularly focused on enabling new opportunities for individuals. Funding will ensure the platform’s rapid adoption, scalability and wide reach. We are trying to form partnerships with organizations that can really push this product to people who will most benefit from it. We really believe that this product can only be as powerful as the number of people who join and so we are actively looking to partner with businesses, governments and NGOs.”

SkillSET was conceived by the Forum’s IT Governors community under the chairmanship of Chuck Robbins, the Chief Executive Officer of Cisco Systems. In addition to Cisco the founding partners are Accenture, CA Technologies, Cognizant, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Infosys, Pegasystems, PwC, Salesforce, SAP and Tata Consultancy Services.

The Forum plans to target an additional nine million people for retraining by 2020 through another program called Closing the Skills Gap 2020, a call for top global businesses to lead training, reskilling and upskilling initiatives between 2018 and 2020.

To date, 26 global founding partners have signed up for Closing the Skills Gap and have collectively committed to providing training opportunities to over 8.1 million people by 2020. The program will be supported by a dedicated online platform, (developed by Tata Consultancy Services), that aims to help businesses share insights and best practices around retraining their workforces.

The goal of both programs, says Sherman, is to make sure that people with jobs in every industry are given the means to learn new skills so they can continue to be productive members of the global workforce.

About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.