2019 Skills Outlook: Thriving in a Digital World

Published on 21st May 2019

Rapid digitalisation is transforming what people do in their jobs, how and where they work, and the skills they need to remain in employment.

This edition of the Skills Outlook looks at how skills policies can help ensure that people thrive – not simply survive – in an increasingly digital world. It identifies concrete measures to bridge the gaps that digitalisation threatens to widen, in the workplace, at home, in the classroom, and within and between countries. Today’s launch comes hot on the heels of our latest Employment Outlook and our “I Am the Future of Work” initiative, which focus on preparing citizens for the changing world of work.

Let me share with you some of the key findings of the study.

2019 Skills Outlook: Key findings

  • A well-rounded skillset is critical to unlocking the benefits of digitalisation. However, the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) reveals that 15% of adults lack basic digital skills, and 13% lack basic digital, numeracy and problem-solving skills. This is really scary, as citizens without basic skills are at risk of being left behind by the digital transformation. Moreover, on average in the OECD, 6.6% of young graduates have low literacy and numeracy skills. But this share goes up to almost 20% in some countries. This means that holding a tertiary degree does not always guarantee a high level of skills.
  • New technologies are changing the way we carry out our jobs. In the digital age, workers must be mobile and able to retrain and upskill along the course of their lives. Our estimates suggest that 14% of jobs (on average) across the OECD face a high risk of being automated and many more jobs – 32% – are expected to undergo substantial changes in terms of the quantity and quality of their tasks. It is imperative that workers retrain and upskill to face these enormous challenges. However, workers in occupations at high risk of automation and the low-skilled are less likely to participate in on the job training than other workers.
  • Countries are unequally prepared to seize the benefits of digital transformation. All governments must take a close look at their training systems to ensure that all individuals, particularly the low-skilled, get more access to life long learning and better training opportunities. A few countries, including Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden, are already ahead in this respect. But many other countries lag behind and policy intervention is urgently needed.
  • Lastly, training costs – to support the transition of workers in occupations at risk of automation to better-quality and more secure jobs – can be substantial. Governments, along with employers and individuals, should contribute to funding these costs to position everyone to seize the benefits of the digital transformation.

The OECD is helping countries to manage these challenges

The OECD has been working hard to address many of these challenges and ensure citizens are able to thrive in a digital world. Recent OECD initiatives – our Skills Strategy, our new Jobs Strategy, and our “Future of Work” and “Going Digital” projects – all reinforce the key recommendations of the 2019 Skills Outlook.

First, we must help individuals to develop the right skills to thrive in a digital workplace and in an increasingly digitalised society. Traditional education is not enough. Countries must implement an effective lifelong learning system; one that quickly responds to labour market needs and offers opportunities to the low-skilled whose jobs are at high risk from automation.

Second, we need to make the most of technology for learning! This means using new technologies more – and better – for learning and adapting school curricula. Teachers cannot be left alone. They need to be supported with the best training possible to reap the benefits of new teaching and learning possibilities. The potential of open education and MOOCs to support learning and skills development can also be leveraged further. We need to broaden awareness of and participation in these learning platforms – particularly among women and low-skilled workers, who currently underutilise them.

Third, we need to bridge technology gaps when they emerge to ensure that all businesses, workers and citizens share the benefits of the digital revolution. We need to avoid the risk that digitalisation exacerbates geographical inequalities within countries. This means harnessing technologies to bridge our divides and improving access to education for those in remote areas.

Last, but not least, the digital transformation touches all of us, so everyone has to contribute to the solution. We need to ensure that countries break silos and put in place a truly comprehensive package that coordinates policy interventions related to education, the labour market, tax, research and innovation, housing and social protection. This coordination is indispensable to ensure we adopt a coherent and whole-of-government approach to realise fully the potential of digital transformation while addressing its challenges.

One thing is certain. Digital technologies are changing the world of work. Countries need to harness the full potential of technology and ensure that its benefits are spread across all of society. To achieve this, greater investments in developing the right skills for the digital revolution are crucial, as is revisiting the way technology is used in schools, and opening up to new forms of life-long learning.

We need to anticipate change, build resilience, and reinvent the way we learn and interact with new technologies. Let’s work together to deliver better jobs and improved well-being for all our citizens. And let’s ensure that individuals are equipped with the skills they need to successfully navigate a changing labour market. The right skills to thrive in the digital world! Thank you.

By Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

This article has been read 11,634 times