The Economic Implications of the Digital Skills Gap

By Jeff Fernandez, co-founder and CEO, Grovo Learning

You’d think that with the advance of emerging computer, nano, mobile — and now yes, even wearable — technologies, individual productivity would be soaring. Instead, of the more than 200 million adults in the US digital workforce, only one in ten consider themselves ‘very proficient’ with the digital tools they use every day. And research conducted by Adobe shows the flipside of that equation: 58 per cent of employees – despite using a set of productivity tools at work – report they’re ‘not productive’.  Perhaps this is why labor productivity growth in the US business sector has slowed to a level not seen since the 1950s—just one per cent for Q1 2014.

The problem lies in the fact that despite digital products rapidly proliferating and evolving, they can only improve performance with the right training. And it appears workers, businesses and the entire economy are paying the price, a nearly $1.3 trillion bill for the US economy alone.  For a firm with 1,000 employees, this translates to a $10 million loss each year based on compensation.

This creeping threat has finally caught on with policymakers around the world, who’ve woken up to the fact that solid digital skills are the key to a competitive advantage in the modern global workforce: governments from Canada, to the UK and the European Union, and even New Zealand have recognised this imperative, while just this spring, US President Barack Obama set aside $600 million to help close the digital skills gap with apprenticeships focusing on job training and the technology of the future.

However – long-term at least – government policy can only have an impact through the slow-to-mature education system, a rather plodding path to a rehabilitated workforce. But individual businesses can’t afford to wait for these efforts. In the short term, it’s workers and firms who are left to, as best they can, patch the digital skills gap that exists (and continues to widen) as new and rapidly changing technologies hit the market en force.

At an organisational level, businesses would be wise to fit digital skills training directly into their workflow. And despite tight schedules and even tighter budgets, the good news is that the appropriate training has been developed — short, succinct, cost-effective micro lessons delivered via 60-90 second videos, for example – that are poised to be the right technology at the right moment to deliver it to the world.

A company’s best bet would be to define the goals of their various departments, and identify the specific skills required to accomplish them. Based on this inventory, a program can be designed to strengthen those skills, but even more crucially, designed around an ongoing, scalable model to maintain those skills over time. In many organisations, it’d be most prudent to focus efforts on a set of eight essential digital skills: working with documents, communication management, project collaboration, search and research, attention management, platform flexibility, digital etiquette, and the all-important privacy and security. But no matter what the content, a well-designed program will offer improvements in productivity, increased job satisfaction, will retain top talent – and even more so – will repay its investment ten fold.

Organisations failing to adapt their training programs will simply fall behind — and that will inevitably trickle down to the individual worker. A recent study by Deloitte, a consultancy, states that the rapid pace of technological change in the workplace can lead to a skills half-life of only 2.5 years. Meaning that even the most adept employee will start to see a lag in their efficiency if they aren’t keeping pace with updates. The bottom line seems to be that just because the world has adopted and is enjoying these technological tools and advancements, surely it does not mean we yet know how to use them all to our competitive advantage.


Jeff Fernandez is co-founder and CEO of Grovo Learning, Inc., which is working to empower the digital workforce with a truly simple end-to-end training solution that delivers the best results in the shortest time.

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