Responding to the digital skills gap

digital skills gap

As a remote talent platform that helps global businesses fulfil their hiring needs, we keep a close eye on the latest technology trends and their impact on the labour market. Our recent blog assessed what impact the current breakthroughs in AI are likely to have on the future job market. And in our latest published update that highlighted key Australian employment trends in 2023, we presented data showing that a severe skills shortage will persist for the foreseeable future.

The persistent and broad-based skills shortage, in particular, is shaping up to be one of the biggest human resource challenges faced by all types of organisations across the world. Adding to the complexity is the fact that the rapid pace of technological evolution makes it difficult to predict the future demand of different skills, which depends on how specific industries will incorporate the new technologies. Nevertheless, in this article we have laid out the current state of play with respect to the skills shortage, a framework for grouping the key in-demand skills, and the strategies companies can adopt to start building future-ready workforces.      


How bad is it?

There are some stark projections about the risks to future economic growth due to talent shortages. A recent study estimated that up to 85 million jobs could go unfilled by 2030, resulting in an US$ 8.5 trillion gap between possible and realised annual revenues globally. More specifically, a lack of digital skills will hit most economies in the coming years. 

For instance, a report by a think tank in 2021 estimated that one in three workers in the US lacks the necessary digital skills needed to succeed in the modern economy, with 13% having no digital skills and 18% having, at best, limited digital skills.

In the Asia Pacific region, which has become the world economy’s centre of gravity, the picture is similar. According to a report published by Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2021 that focused on six major economies in the region – Singapore, Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea –  the number of workers applying digital skills in these countries will increase by over five times by 2025. The report estimates that to achieve this scale of skilling and upskilling, 5.7 billion digital skill trainings will be required! 

More recent research on the Asia Pacific, covering a broader set of countries, confirms this trend. It shows that 75% of employers, government officials, and academics in the region believed that their country had a significant digital skills gap.      


The skills in high demand      

This aspect of the skills gap, the demand side, has a plethora of research and forecasts. However, we believe that instead of predicting exact job titles of the future, it is more useful for companies and workers alike to consider the main types of skills that will be required going forward. We have organised these skills into two broad categories, technical skills and soft skills.  


Technical skills     

  • Data analysis and interpretation: With the vast amount of data being generated, the ability to analyse and interpret it will continue to be highly valued. Data analytics tools and techniques, such as machine learning, predictive analytics, and data visualisation, will remain valuable.
  • Cybersecurity: As technology continues to advance, so do the threats to digital security. Cybersecurity professionals who can protect against and respond to cyber threats will be highly sought after.


  • Artificial intelligence (AI): The growth of AI and machine learning is transforming many industries, from healthcare to finance to education, and even changing how we browse the internet. Professionals who can design and develop AI and machine learning algorithms will be in high demand.


  • Digital marketing: This is becoming increasingly important as more companies shift their focus to online channels. Digital marketers who can create effective online advertising campaigns, use social media to engage with customers, and track and analyse user data will be highly valued.


  • Cloud computing: With the move towards cloud-based infrastructure, cloud computing skills such as cloud architecture, deployment, and management will be highly valuable.


Soft skills

  • Problem solving: Digital workers need solid analytical skills that enable them to find logical solutions to various technology-related issues. Additionally, this involves being able to think ahead, identify problems before they arise, and methodically take things apart to gain insight into how processes work.  


  • Project management: As more companies embrace digital transformation, project management skills will be critical to ensure that projects are delivered on time, within budget, and meet the desired outcomes.


  • Collaboration and communication: With more remote work and distributed teams, collaboration and communication skills will be critical to ensure teams can work effectively together.


  • Adaptability: With the pace of technological change being so rapid, success in the digital age will depend heavily on how quickly workers and managers can evolve their thinking, and learn new skills.   


What companies should do

In an era where every business is essentially going to be a technology business, companies need to think beyond simply training engineers or developers. They need to take a more holistic and long-term view when designing their workforce digital upskilling and reskilling strategies. Keeping these four main planks in mind can be a good start. 


Make learning and development a core strategy

With workplaces getting digitised at a rapid pace, upskilling and reskilling of their workers has become imperative for every business. To achieve this, learning and development programs must become a part of companies’ investment strategies, designed while keeping in mind their long-term goals and anticipating the skills that will be critical for success in the next 5–10 years horizon. The ability to induct and train for digital skills will be a key success differentiator.


Tap into the global talent pool

This is perhaps the single biggest change every company needs to make in its recruitment strategy, if it isn’t already hiring globally. Expanding the talent pool beyond a company’s home country can be extremely effective in filling roles that require highly specialised skills, that could take months or even years to fill if only domestic candidates are considered. And with remote work becoming a norm since the pandemic, setting up cross-border teams has become even easier.  


Adjust the recruitment criteria

Increasingly, companies will need to emphasise skills and certifications over traditional work histories. For instance, seeking out candidates with a demonstrable skill (such as programming knowledge of a particular language) can be more fruitful, regardless of whether they have a university degree. Both job advertisements and the selection mindset needs to be re-oriented towards relevant knowledge, skills, and abilities. Apart from focusing recruitment efforts, this will also expand the potential talent pool, to include typically overlooked candidates such as those without degrees and older workers. 


Create training partnerships

Companies will need to proactively engage external stakeholders, in addition to internal efforts, to fully meet their skills needs of the future. This can include creating partnerships with local and foreign academic institutions, as well as technical schools and certification institutes.These partnerships can provide employers with a steady stream of potential future workers, who are already acquiring relevant skills. Coupled with apprenticeship programmes, companies can leverage external partnerships to boost their future workforce quality.      



While there are many other tactics companies can adopt, depending on their industry and region, these broad strategies will likely apply to any firm and help it mitigate the digital skills shortage. There will be greater competition over skilled talent with each passing year, and companies that start thinking and acting now will be at an advantage in the future.

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