What Actually Are Digital Skills, and Where Are They Wanted?

March 2, 2023 by Mariana Marques

We see buzzwords like “digital transformation” and “agile” everywhere. But they are more than just industry jargon - digitalisation truly is our new reality. That’s how we connect with people, and how ground-breaking products are built across the globe. 

Digital skills have become fundamental to economic growth, and the importance of ensuring people are being taught them and employers are being supplied with them is being acknowledged all over the globe. 

The European Commission (EC), for instance, has not only dubbed 2023 the Year of Skills but has prioritised improving digital skills as one of its focus areas. Why? According to The Digital Economy and Society Index, 4 in 10 adults in the European Union (EU) actually lack basic digital skills. The EC has therefore taken matters into its own hands and developed a series of programmes to support this boost.

Lightcast hosted a webinar on “Unlocking New Possibilities in the Labour Market in the “Year of Skills” to help you address some of the key questions around skills demand and trends. In this article, we dive further into digital skills and how their demand is distributed not only across different countries but also across different regions. But first, what are digital skills really?

What actually are digital skills?

There isn’t a universal definition of digital skills, partly because technology is ever-changing and job requirements continue to evolve to reflect that. Many of the digital skills that are most in demand now were unheard of a couple of years ago. Take TikTok, for instance. Who would have thought TikTok would be a popular skill requirement in 2022? 

Unesco defines digital skills as the ability to use digital devices, communication applications, and networks to access and manage information. The number of digital skills is growing: what once was solely associated with the IT sector, can now be applied to all kinds of software skills, from simple Microsoft Excel to complex programming languages and cloud infrastructures like Amazon Web Services (AWS). In this short video, we take you through how digital skills can be defined:

Lightcast’s Open Skills Library contains over 32,000 skills and 12,000 of these are digital. You can quite quickly see the incredible and rapidly growing demand for digital skills in Europe and globally. 

What digital skills are actually needed?

Taking the UK as an example, the demand for digital skills has been growing steadily over the past few years. In 2022, nearly 45% of all unique job postings in the UK required at least one digital skill. Some of the most popular ones include Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Office and Microsoft Outlook - tools that many organisations rely on daily to do their jobs and communicate with each other. But that’s not all - a lot of the most in-demand digital skills are also highly technical, such as programming languages like JavaScript, Python and SQL. 

Which jobs have the highest demand for digital skills?

Earlier we discussed how digital skills go beyond IT-related jobs. While that is true, IT roles do have the highest number of job postings requiring digital skills. Within the sector, IT Business Analysts, Programmers and Software Developers are the job titles that require digital skills the most. 

Management Consultants, Company Secretaries, and Design and Development Engineers are also high up on the “need for digital” ranks. However, the demand for these job roles is slightly lower than for the IT roles we mentioned. 

Where are the digital skills gaps?

Long story short: everywhere. Technology is evolving at an unbeatable pace, and while we can’t predict what the next decade will be like, one thing is for sure: there is no stopping digitalisation.  AI, Machine Learning, Robotics - all these innovative technologies that most of us struggle to understand will have a profound effect on the way we work. And they are not coming for our jobs either, because, thankfully, they still need humans to run them and correct their mistakes. 

This means that every job in the world will require increasingly more digital skills. We will need to interact with technology regardless of our job title or sector, in one way or another. As we have seen by the staggering lack of basic digital skills in the EU, the gaps couldn’t be any more significant. So how do you actually go about understanding what digital skills you need from your workforce, and what digital skills to require when hiring for new roles? Long live the data - let’s explore. 

How can we understand the digital skills profile of different jobs?

We did our research into digital skills demand in the UK and, based on our findings, we can see that people-facing occupations such as Nurses, Care Workers and Teachers, generally require fewer digital skills. However, all jobs need digital skills, some more than others. The type of digital skill is the crucial part of the equation - and that’s when digital skills profiles come into play. 

Nurses don’t need to code in Python, but they may need to know how to work with a hospital’s software operations system to check appointments. Different occupations have different digital profiles. They aren’t necessarily all related to developing software or building a website. For administrative tasks, you may need working knowledge of a particular software tool. Warehouse workers may need digital skills to run machines. The list of examples could go on and on, but you get the message. 

In the short video below, we look at the digital skills profile of different jobs. As you can see, of those job roles that are low in volume, some require more digital skills, like Design and Development Engineers, but most of these have lower digital demand. Yet, we can quickly determine that despite the varying volume of digital requirements, they all still require such skills.

It’s worth noting that this is UK data, and similar roles may look different in different countries depending, for example, on policies or government funding. While we painted a picture of where the risks and opportunities are when it comes to digital skills, you will likely be needed to drill down even further and explore a particular country or region, or even a specific job title. 

Want to learn more about Lightcast skills?

Lightcast has an Open Skills Library of over 30.000 skills, more than a third of which are digital skills. These are split into 400 categories and subcategories, so you can quickly find what you need. But there are a lot more tools you can use, including our free European Insights dashboard, or our customisable Lightcast API. Get in touch with the Lightcast team, and we will get you the data you need.