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Enterprise’s biggest challenge yet - growing digital skills for the future of work

By , Area Vice President, Salesforce - Emerging Markets
South Africa , 14 Feb 2022
Robin Fisher, senior area vice-president of Salesforce Emerging Markets.
Robin Fisher, senior area vice-president of Salesforce Emerging Markets.

Ever since the shift from stone to metal tools, the world has steadily been moving towards an increasingly digital age. However, the rate at which technological developments take place today is expanding exponentially and over the last two years digital adoption and transformation has been accelerated at a rapid pace.

This has had a significant impact on the workplace, resulting in a shift towards remote and hybrid working environments that empowers anyone to do their best work from anywhere, as well as changes in labour and skills demand. According to the International Finance Corporation, 230 million jobs in sub-Saharan Africa will require digital skills by 2030. Emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence and automation are also transforming the job landscape in a way that is changing the needs and requirements of certain job roles, making existing jobs redundant, and even creating completely new jobs that did not exist before.

As businesses adopt these new and emerging technologies into their organisations, they also need to acquire the human resources and skills required to support and work with the technology. But, as South Africa grapples with a substantial digital skills gap, meeting these skills needs is difficult and challenging.

An ever-climbing skills shortfall

South Africa’s digital skills gap has steadily changed from a valley to a canyon over the last few years, with many graduates lacking the basic and critical skills needed in the workplace. In 2019, the country recorded a skills mismatch of over 50%. And, while we can only speculate at this point, it is highly likely that these skills challenges have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Wits University’s 2021 ICT Skills Survey found that companies within the South African tech sector were finding it hardest to fill vacancies in positions such as software developers, computer network technicians, developer programmers and computer network and systems engineers, despite a noted increase in vacancies in these positions. Additionally, the most in-demand skills listed by employers are in cybersecurity, big data and analytics, DevOps, and Artificial Intelligence.

But, it’s not just the ICT sector that isn’t able to meet key digital skills demands. Organisations across industries are struggling to find the right digital skills needed to enable digital innovation, support recovery from the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and drive future growth. Even everyday digital skills covering expertise in areas such as smartphone usage, website browsing, social media and productivity programs like Word, Excel, and Google Docs are in short supply, not just in South Africa but across the globe.

According to the 2022 Salesforce Global Digital Skills Index, workers surveyed around the world only scored 33 out of 100 points on the digital readiness index which included areas such as access to learning resources, skill level, and participation in training. Only 40% of workers felt they were currently very prepared with workplace digital skills, with 34% who felt confident they would be in the next five years. Meanwhile, nearly three quarters of respondents said that they aren’t equipped with the resources needed to learn the digital skills to succeed in a digital workplace. The digital skills index presents a clear picture into how workers are feeling in terms of preparedness, skill level, access and their active participation in upskilling.

Ensuring skills keep pace with transformation

It’s never been more important than now to actively seek out new skills. A fortunate side-effect of the last two years of disruption has been the shift towards a more online learning environment at a large scale.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, online learning and training is on the rise with a four-fold increase in the number of individuals seeking out learning opportunities online through their own initiative, and a five-fold increase in employer provision of online learning opportunities to their employees. Additionally, there has been a nine-fold enrollment increase in learners accessing online learning through government programmes, with a greater focus on skills such as data analysis, computer science and information technology.

Learning platforms are making digital skills learning fun, easy, and accessible by providing anyone with the opportunity to learn critical skills for free online, anywhere and at any time.

Both the public and private sectors have a responsibility to unlock vital upskilling, reskilling, and digital literacy within both the current and future workforce, in order to prepare people for the future of work and develop the capabilities to effectively drive innovation and growth.

By better understanding the challenges to closing the digital divide and skills gap, and shaping our response and support accordingly, we can make a difference. But, we need to see a concerted collaborative effort to break down barriers to learning and create an equal and accessible pathway into a digital-first future.

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