Demand for digital skills increasing and spreading

It’s worth knowing how the digital world is affecting the demand for skills. If applicants are unaware of developments, they may find themselves excluded from opportunities, both in their current work, as well as in what is available to them in the future.

Two documents are worth reading:

The National Skills Commission’s report Digital Skills in the Australian and International Economies suggests “the skills needed to respond to the digital world are amongst the fastest growing in the Australian economy” and “skills clustered around engaging with the digital economy are expected to increase by up to 28 per cent on current use levels over the next five years”.

Researchers found that not only have the digital skills sought grown (called trending skills) and exist in a diverse range of occupations, but there are occupations where digital skills have emerged for the first time in the last five years (called emerging skills). Plus, new occupations are created.

In addition to trending and emerging skills, the analysis uses three different types of digital skills that can be compared across countries:

  • “Baseline digital skills – are digital literacy skills requested by employers for most occupations. They include skills in office suite software (word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software), enterprise resource planning and project management software.
  • Specific digital skills – are digital skills required for more technical occupations grouped into seven specific digital skill categories … including skills in data analysis, digital design and marketing, software and programming, computer and network support, customer relationship management, and machining and manufacturing technology.
  • Cutting edge skills – are digital skills that have experienced growth of over 150 per cent in Australian online job advertisements requiring them between 2013 and 2020. These skills are growing quickly, but from a low base.”

The NSC’s analysis found:

  • The demand for emerging digital skills is creating new occupations such as data scientist and data engineer. Such occupations are driven by the need to collect, manage and safely store data and information on-line. These occupations do not exist in the current Australian occupational classification system.
  • Digital skills impact a range of occupations beyond IT occupations. The demand for data analysis skills is increasing, as are skills in social media and graphic and visual design software. Social media skills are increasingly needed across diverse occupations such as fitness instructors, hotel managers, film and video editor and library assistant.

The Commission concludes by saying: “Our findings suggest the skills associated with engaging in the digital economy will continue to grow and be used 15 per cent more of the time within an average person’s job in the next five years. Certain digital skills will be more in demand than others, for example ‘test computer and software performance’ is predicted to increase by 28 per cent on current use levels over the next five years. As the usage of digital skills increases employers will demand a higher level of technical skills, or specific digital skills, for both ICT and non-ICT occupations.”

This means job applicants need to consider:

  • How a business or organisation is adapting to changes in the digital economy that impacts their work.
  • How technological changes may impact how the work they do is done.
  • What skill they may need to update and/or learn.
  • What technological developments they may need to stay current about, even if they don’t directly affect their work.

Another document worth reading is the Australian government’s Digital Economy Strategy 2030 which sets out “how Australia will secure its future as a modern and leading digital economy and society by 2030”.

This document explains that “a digital economy and society includes all activity reliant on, or significantly enhanced by, the use of digital inputs including:

  • technologies: the tools and products that help us work and in our everyday lives such as smartphones, robotics and automation.
  • infrastructure: the systems that keep us connected and online such as mobile and fixed phone and broadband services and location-based technologies (like GPS).
  • services: the processes, culture and business models that enable a user-centric end-to-end service such as digital platforms, software and cloud storage.
  • data: the basic element that can be processed or produced by a computer to convey information, including the facts, statistics, instructions, concepts, or other information capable of being communicated, analysed or processed by an individual or by other means including a computer, electronic and automated means.
  • regulatory frameworks: that oversee the efficient, safe and reliable functioning of the digital economy, including the standards that underpin the operation of digital technologies and infrastructure.
  • capabilities and skills: the application of skills and knowledge that ensures people are able to use digital technologies and participate in society.” P. 10

The strategy is built around three pillars:

1. Building the foundations to grow the digital economy –  Creating policy settings for the digital economy, including investing in digital infrastructure, a skilled workforce, digital inclusion, digital trade agreements, cyber security and safety, and world-class systems and regulation that encourage the adoption and creation of trusted digital technology.

2. Building capability in emerging technologies – developing an understanding of these technologies so the government can build capability and keep pace with changes in technology.

3. Setting Digital Growth Priorities to lift our ambition – four strategic priorities across the economy where we can partner with the private sector to drive digital growth, jobs and capability: lifting the digital capability of small to medium enterprises (SMEs); supporting modern and globally competitive industry sectors in areas like manufacturing, agriculture, mining and construction; building a dynamic and emerging technology sector; and delivering simple and secure digital government services. P. 3

Changes in jobs and occupations due to technology developments are not new. The strategy points out that Australia’s jobs are “becoming increasingly digital, both through growing use of digital tools in all jobs and new jobs in technology and data. Technology and digital platforms are also changing how business and workers connect to perform jobs.

Jobs that are more routine in nature like data collection and administration are increasingly being more streamlined or augmented using digital tools. Jobs that require more critical thinking or greater connections, such as accounting and teaching are being enhanced by digital technology, supporting people with these capabilities. Entirely new jobs and businesses have emerged in areas like cyber security and data analytics. The Digital Transformation Expert Panel noted estimates that by 2034, technology will augment 4.5 million Australian workers.” P. 15

What this means, the strategy says, is the need for digitally capable workers who have a mindset and capabilities to innovate using digital technologies.

For government employees, this strategy provides a useful summary of frameworks, policies, programs, inquiries, reviews, laws, agreements and international engagement. It identifies the key technologies shaping our future as being:

  • Blockchain
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Internet of things
  • Data analytics
  • Quantum computing

Plus there is a discussion of the need for whole-of-economy settings for:

  • Digital infrastructure – to connect business and households
  • Cyber security, safety and trust – to protect and build confidence
  • Skills and inclusion – to build digital capabilities for the future workforce
  • Systems and regulation – to implement smart, modern settings to drive digitalisation
  • Trade and international engagement – to open markets and set global standards to ensure Australian businesses, workers and consumers benefit from digital trade.

Job applicants for government roles need to be aware of this strategy, the interrelationships across departments and agencies, the need for inter-jurisdictional collaboration, and the diverse range of work and roles impacted by digital developments.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.