Why Digital Competencies Among Employees Are Becoming Increasingly Important for Companies

digital competencies of employees

Success in an increasingly digital world depends on how we handle digital technologies and use them to our advantage. Digital skills make it easy to continuously learn and are vital for employees and companies alike. Digital certificates and badges help provide a solid basis that learners can use to prove their achievements and motivate them to learn.

What are digital skills, and why are they essential for companies?

Companies that want to benefit from digital technologies need employees who can handle digital technologies. In other words, they need employees with digital skills. Not only that, but companies that want to sell digital services also need customers whose employees can handle these technologies.

Large organizations such as Amazon and SAP have expanded training opportunities for customers and those who are interested in furthering their knowledge. Amazon has agreed to help 29 million people develop digital skills by 2025. Those in the program will be able to further their education in cloud computing free of charge.

But that’s not nearly enough when you look at the numbers: 77 percent of IT decision-makers in the EMEA region talk about a lack of skills in such vital areas as cybersecurity, cloud computing, DevOps, systems architecture, or other more specialized segments of information technology. (Global Knowledge 2019 IT Skills and Salary Report). In the European Union alone, the public sector lacks 8.6 million people with digital skills (McKinsey&Company).

digital skills

What makes digital skills so valuable?

Large companies could save up to $16 billion with an optimal mix of technology, says management consultancy Accenture. However, only 13 percent of companies have unlocked the full impact of their digital investments, therefore saving on costs and creating growth—one reason for this low percentage being a lack of digital skills among employees. The speed at which digital technologies are evolving and being introduced into companies remains unabated.

According to a survey by Bitkom, 54 percent of companies expect the pandemic to drive their organization’s digitization in the long term. Bitkom President Achim Berg says: “Success comes from a combination of the introduction of new technologies, the digitization of one’s processes and, in particular, the qualification of employees.”

And let’s not kid ourselves: This affects almost every industry, and not just employees in the office, many employees in production or in home office. Even a farmer today only achieves success in the field and the barn if they can utilize specific harvest assistants with digital technologies, digital planning tools, milking robots, and automatic feeders that can be used, controlled, and programmed in a targeted manner.

Corona has indeed resulted in a real technology boost. However, this increased use should not obscure that most of these technologies were already there and were just not used as extensively as they are now.

What about digital transformation in companies?

Not all companies have caught up yet regarding cloud computing, big data, and e-commerce. Introducing these technologies remains a high priority, and the speed at which companies are working on advancing with them will not change. On the contrary, new areas are emerging in which digital technologies are increasingly rolled out, such as humanoid robots. Cyber security is also becoming an even more critical topic, just as the hacker attacks on the US pipeline, German hospitals, universities, and companies have shown us.

A key characteristic of digital transformation is that this transformation will continue. The accompanying changes resulting from new and more advanced technologies are ongoing and will continue to evolve. That also creates a continuous need for further training, especially in digital skills. Where there are already skills gaps, there is a risk that these will remain large or widen further as the skills in demand continue to change across all professions in the coming years.

The digital economy is both costing jobs and creating new ones. According to the WEF’s Future of Jobs Survey 2020, companies plan to convert 46 percent of their employees to start careers that require new skills. A further 73 percent are willing to retrain and upskill them to acquire the necessary digital skills.

digital transformation in companies

From Zoom to Cybersecurity: What distinguishes digital skills in practice?

Whether it’s knowing how to use collaboration and communication tools, using social media skills to network with customers and colleagues, applying SEO skills and content curation to digital marketing, using data science to solve complex problems, or making the right decisions for the future via data-driven management, none of this would be possible without digital skills.

In our increasingly digital world, digital skills are among the so-called cross-cutting skills that make active participation in society and, above all, professional life possible in the first place and form the basis for lifelong learning and employment. The European Reference Framework DigComp, (https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/digcomp) describes what this includes for Europe.

According to this, there are eight areas of competence that describe which digital competencies are required to use digital devices such as computers, laptops, tablets, or smartphones, which simultaneously allow the digital competencies of employees to be easily compared:

  1. Information and data expertise. This includes, for example, the digital skills of finding, filtering, evaluating, and managing data and digital content.
  2. Communication and cooperation. This includes collaboration and networking via digital media as well as managing one’s own digital identity.
  3. Be able to design and create (program) digital content.
  4. Know and be able to apply the relevant legal principles such as copyright and licenses.
  5. Data protection and safe use of digital devices.
  6. Knowledge and skills to solve technical problems.
  7. The ability to identify and assess one’s own skill gaps.
  8. Be able to analyze, evaluate, understand, and reflect on information and digital media.

The skills described here can also be found in other studies and surveys that focus on the skills in demand for the future of work. For example, the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Future of Job Report 2020 lists two essential digital skills among the top 10 skills for 2025: Using, monitoring, and controlling technology and technology design and programming. Thus, showing just how prevalent digital skills and having such competencies is today.