A Look At The Digital Skills Gap

Main Street in Disneyland just before the fireworks.

Back From Vacation!

 I’m back from a spring break vacation with the family to California and wonderful Disneyland!  It was a great time for all, and well worth all the time and energy that went into planning it.   We visited family in Carmel, watched whales from the beach, and wore ourselves out on the pavement and rides in Disneyland (I clocked about 27,000 steps on my FitBit on one day alone). Fun!

I believe solopreneurs must take breaks every three months or so or face burning out. We work hard; we should play harder!

A Look At The Digital Skills Gap

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

  I limited my reading on this trip to try and stay focused on family and the fun. The reading I did make time for was on the Fourth Industrial Revolution as introduced by the World Economic Forum back in February.   Fascinating stuff!  There appears to be a raging debate about whether or not the coming digital interconnectedness and automation qualify as an industrial revolution.   There is little debate the coming digital interconnectedness and automation will be very disruptive. 

 My takeaway: the next few years are going to be interesting indeed for entrepreneurs as they navigate these major disruptions. 

The Need For Digital Skills

  The other interesting part about the upcoming digital transformation is that it is happening so fast that a digital skills gap (as the European Commission calls it) is already occurring within the small business community.  Digital skills are skills related to using various technology productively.   According to the reports I have read, most countries are already behind the curve in dealing with the increasing need by businesses to use digital skills. 

 I’m still not clear exactly what digital skills might be thought of as necessary to small businesses. If you look at the digital skills definition, any skill related to the productive use of technology could be a digital skill.  Now that is a lot of ground to cover! 

I was able to find a bit of organization around the notion of “basic digital skills” on the Go ON UK website.  It looks like this (for organizations):

Managing Information

  • Store digital information on suppliers and customers
  • Search for new suppliers to find the best deals
  • Use simple analytics to understand who uses your website and when
  • Discover potential growth opportunities for your business

Communicating

  • Maintain customer and client relationships
  • Use social media to promote your business and connect with new customers
  • Improve your customer service by providing accessible product information and answers to FAQs

Transacting

  • Maximise your selling potential through a website
  • Apply for government business permits and licences and save time
  • Manage invoices and accounts
  • Receive payments or donations

Problem-solving

  • Save on business travel and be more efficient by using video conferencing
  • Quickly understand which products and services work based on online feedback
  • Use simple analytics to understand who uses your website and when
  • Get quick, effective solutions to problems from safe, accurate sources

Creating

  • Create content (pictures, logos, text) to promote your organisation and reach customers
  • Create communities around your services and products using social media to engage with customers
  • Create help resources and guides for employees for improved employee skill levels

I don’t know if I agree that there constitute a basic digital skills framework, but it’s a start.  

A Rough Digital Skills Typology

I read a few academic articles related to digital skills and was able to put together a rough typology:

  • Structurally-Driven Digital Skills – High-end digital skills for producing platforms and apps. If you think lean canvas, wireframing, or Ruby on Rails and you are on the right track.  Businesses that use these skills are likely pure digital companies with little business done offline. Entrepreneurs that are using these skills are creating the digital technologies and environments we encounter online. 
  • ContentDriven Digital Skills – Content skills for entrepreneurs and small business owners.  These skills may include content creation, communication, strategy, problem-solving and security related skills.  Entrepreneurs and small business owners develop skills to use various technologies that enable their businesses to be conducted online. These kinds of businesses may have online and offline components.
  • Basic Digital Literacy Skills – These skills are more related to the networked digital devices we use such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and so forth. These skills are used to understand technology and how it can be used. 

As I mentioned, this is very rough, and I will endeavor to improve upon it in the days ahead. 

Challenges to Acquiring Digital Skills

 It does not take much investigating into digital skills to see the roadblocks to acquiring the needed skills. Some entrepreneurs have challenges with their smartphone, others in building a website, and others yet in building an app or digital platform. That brings us back to the gap in digital skills and an interesting implication for every country on the planet: we will all be dealing with an increasing number of digital businesses.  That impacts entrepreneurs, employees and governments alike.  Further, the rapid changes in technology make it imperative the business owners are constantly upgrading their skills sets.  

 The challenges I see to this digital transformation will be staying motivated to upgrade skills, identifying which digital skills need to be upgraded, finding reliable knowledge and information outlets that provide digital skills, and how to apply or implement the digital skills productively. 

 According to Matt Brittin, President of EMEA Business and Operations at Google, nearly 2.7 billion people in the world are now connected online.  Even more daunting, that number will double by 2020! Solopreneurs have plenty of motivation to face this challenge!

My Main Takeaway

 My takeaway from this deep dive into digital skills is that major disruption is at hand.  We (small businesses) are about to go digital in ways we never dreamed of just a few years ago.  If all businesses are now digital businesses, acquiring digital skills is no longer optional, but essential. The solopreneurs and entrepreneurs that acquire those skills will have remarkable opportunities ahead and become global businesses. The ones that do not may end up left far behind. 

What do you see as required digital skills today?


Also published on Medium.

Leave A Response