Digital skills, delivered: Four steps to better learning for the future of work

How can policymakers support people in work to adapt to the changing demands of work? We have identified four key aspects to watch out for and provide 10 case studies of programmes which already successfully.

Jobs are changing. Whether you are optimistic about the impact of digitalisation or fear an automated dystopia, it is clear that technological innovation will continue to reshape almost every workplace over the coming years. People who embrace new tools and ways of working throughout their careers are likely to thrive in this transforming environment; those that do not will be left behind. What does this mean for people who are already in work?

According to Nesta CEO Geoff Mulgan, “hundreds of millions of adults…have to learn new skills, from handling digital technologies to more human skills like how to collaborate, communicate or create.” Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum argues that “for policy-makers, reskilling and retraining the existing workforce are essential levers to fuel future economic growth [and] enhance societal resilience”, and calls for a “reskilling revolution” to catalyse the development of a prosperous and inclusive economy.

Learning new skills is, of course, easier said than done. Learning is a time-consuming endeavour. It puts pressure on the resources of individuals, and requires their commitment and motivation. If they are in work, learners often need support from their employers. Yet few organisations prioritise training to meet the demands of the rapid digitisation, and education is generally seen as something that we complete before entering into a career. Even for people who overcome these challenges, the high rate of technological development combined with limited labour market data makes it difficult to identify the most valuable skills to learn.

Learning from upskilling pioneers

Acknowledging the hurdles noted above, some pioneering governments and organisations have launched initiatives to give adults in work the skills they need to thrive in the digital economy. We analysed several approaches and identified factors that are important for successful digital skills provision.

The range of skills addressed by the programmes and policies we reviewed covers a broad spectrum. Some initiatives instruct people in the basic competencies they need to participate in an increasingly digital society: how to use a mouse; how to send an email; how to pay taxes online. Some support individuals and SMEs to enhance the outcomes they get from digital tools they are already using. Others ready individuals for digital specialist roles, equipping them with the skills they need to work as web developers, UX designers or data scientists.

Our new guide, ‘Delivering Digital Skills’ features 10 case studies which highlight innovative approaches that have been developed to support individuals to learn valuable skills for the future of work.

Four steps to inclusive and responsive learning ecosystems

By speaking to people who are delivering training and creating policies to provide adults with new skills for the evolving digital world, we formulated four elements of a learning system:

  • * Deliver labour market fit by providing skills that will be in demand when the training is complete.
  • * Ensure learner fit by enabling individuals to identify the skills and training that are relevant to their abilities and aspirations.
  • * Administer the necessary delivery support for any individual to undertake and complete training.
  • * Provide a career passport which helps individuals to access jobs in new sectors in which they are unlikely to have social connections or specific experience.

These elements enable the system to be responsive to changes in skills demand, and enhance its capacity for inclusion. Delivering Digital Skills divides them into a granular nine-part framework to create a tool that policymakers can use to map and plan systems for the provision of new skills to adults in work.

What policymakers can do

Learning systems for the digital economy need multiple moving parts to adapt to changes in skills demands and provide appropriate support, but it is not necessary for all elements to be delivered by the same organisation. The case studies included in Delivering Digital Skills show how government departments, NGOs and private organisations can work together to connect services into a pathway that individuals can follow to learn new skills.

Governments are uniquely placed to play a variety of roles that can catalyse the development of such systems. Using the our framework, policymakers can identify and convene disparate service providers to bring together a coherent learning ecosystem. Where they spot gaps, they can design interventions which foster the development or implementation of new services. The can enable improvements to different elements of the system, by listening to delivery partners and facilitating the sharing of information between them. This works regardless of who is delivering skills programmes.
The dissolution of boundaries between strategy, implementation, and evaluation should be central to any approach to delivering digital skills. Adapting the learning system to technological development
As technological development races ahead, swift and intelligent iteration throughout the learning system will require close collaboration between policymakers and other stakeholders.

To learn more, download Readie’s latest guide, Delivering Digital Skills, or email


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