Why are digital skills so important?
The microprocessor switched the world from an analog to a digital mode in which virtually every person, company, and government is a customer for technology products, mostly because of the introduction of PCs in 1981. The invention of the PC thus rendered anything and everything subject to the power of the computer, while retaining the crucial dimensions of human scale, decentralized decision making, customized design, and creativity.
Countries that were early adopters of the digital economic paradigm are already benefiting from the effects. According to a recent OECD report China has become the largest exporters of ICT goods, while India is now the largest exporter of ICT infrastructure and services. The e-skills UK Sector Skills Council noted that: “Digital technology is the single biggest lever for productivity and competitiveness across every sector of the economy”.
The imperative for Canada to embrace the digital economy was stated in the Speech from the Throne on March 3, 2010, and concrete action to create a national digital economic strategy was launched in May 2010 by a broad consultation of Canadians. The consultation paper on a Digital Economy Strategy for Canada defined digital technologies as: “tools, capacities or knowledge assets that can be embedded in business processes, products and services to help firms and individuals in all sectors of the economy become more productive, innovative and competitive”. To be merely in possession of technical infrastructure (hardware and software) is by no means sufficient to provide a comparative advantage and to become competitive and succeed in the digital economy. Having a workforce that can lever these key assets effectively and efficiently is essential. Employers’ survey conducted by the e-skills UK Sector Skills Council indicated that the great majority (77%) of workers were using digital technology to perform their everyday job tasks. This explains why these employers also reported that almost all (92%) new employees being hired must have at least some basic level of digital technology skills. It is anticipated that technology will be a key driver for job creation in western countries.
Although Canada has a world-class education and training system, the economic prosperity which is helping Canadians to sustain a high standard of living may be at risk from poor adaptability of the workforce to new technology. The digital strategy consultation paper revealed that a substantial proportion of Canadian workers (40 percent) lack the basic literacy skills necessary to support the adoption of technology and effectively contribute to our growth in productivity and competitiveness in world trades. This skills gap can have serious implications for the Canadian economy: “if we don’t have the systems in place to develop ICT skills for the entire economy, we’re putting Canada’s long-term prosperity at risk” (The Honourable Diane Finley Minister of Human Resources and Skills development Canada). Review of international trends also indicated that digital skills are now essential to support participation, inclusion, and innovation in a knowledge economy.
The OECD Information Technology Outlook 2010 indicates ICT skills development is the number one economic recovery policy in the great majority (15) of OECD Member States, and ICT skills development also ranks number 6 in long term economic policies. The International Labour Conference of 2008 also concluded that skills development will be essential to address the opportunities and challenges and meet new demands of changing economies and new technologies in the context of globalization; and that a highly skilled workforce: “fuels innovation, productivity, increase in enterprise development, technological change, investment, diversification of the economy, and competitiveness that are needed to sustain and accelerate the creation of more and better jobs in the context of Decent Work Agenda, and improve social cohesion”. Technology is said to be the driver of this new economy, but workers knowledge and skills are its fuels.
The term digital economy emerged from the observation that technological revolution has facilitated production of information goods, which can be digitized. Digital skills therefore are the competencies required for using digital systems and tools for producing these goods.