CXO

How to fix the economic problems of workforce digitization: A 3-step approach

New research from the Brookings Institution explains how organizations can work to mitigate the problems that come from new work technologies.

The rapid digitization of the US economy is having a massive impact on the workforce, as medium- or high-level digital skills are now needed for nearly 90% of all accessible "good" jobs, according to a recent report from the Brookings Institution.

While digitization brings with it increased pay and better insulation against automation, there are some negative effects. Being that more and more jobs are requiring high levels of digital skills, that means those same jobs are out of reach for many folks who lack those skills. Digitization can also lead to income disparities as well, the report found.

SEE: IT leader's guide to achieving digital transformation (Tech Pro Research)

To address these problems, the report recommends that organizations such as businesses, associations, governments, and nonprofits work together on three key initiatives: Expanding the high-skill IT talent pipeline, expanding basic digital literacy, and growing worker soft skills.

1. Expanding the talent pipeline

Nearly every job is a "tech" job is some capacity. A such, one of the first priorities for businesses should be to work on upskilling and retraining existing talent, the report said. This could include training non-technical staff for IT roles, or upskilling mid-level IT employees to work on software development or operations.

Companies should also consider tuition reimbursement for traditional schooling or for alternative education such as coding camps, the report said. The report also called on governments to incentivize company-based digital upskilling programs with tax benefits.

In looking for outside options, organizations should begin investing in their local tech skills ecosystem, the report said. This could mean working to build "regional skills partnerships that bring together firms, community colleges, investment boards, accelerated learning companies, non-traditional intermediates, and others to deliver dynamic training solutions," the report noted.

To develop more talent, regional tech partners should begin advocating for work-based training approaches in IT such as apprenticeships, co-ops, and internships—especially if they are associated with a certification. To add to the available training resources, enterprises and governments should invest resources in attracting more digital accelerators and coding camps to their areas as well, the report said.

It's also critical that organizations in the tech sector do not overlook underrepresented talent—like women and people of color in IT—working to provide career on-ramps that are focused on inclusion, the report said.

Expansion of computer science education in the region, especially in K-12 schools, is also a critical step in building up the talent pipeline.

2. Expanding digital literacy

Digitization has made certain digital skills, such as understanding office suite applications, table stakes in almost every industry. But some populations lack even the most basic digital skills.

While learning high-level skills like coding are essential to growth, getting more citizens training on even the most low-level digital skills can have a huge impact on the health of the economy, the report said. Once people are trained on these skills, they gain access to new opportunities in the workforce.

"Serving as classic door-opener positions, mid-digital jobs in offices, retail, health care, factories, and management represent the crux sites of economic inclusion—the places where those without advanced education can hook onto the mainstream," the report said.

According to the report, the first step is creating a targeted marketing campaign that shows the value of learning digital skills aimed at youth, underrepresented groups, and their influencers. Targeted social media campaigns and videos could be used to explain how digital skills will create more career opportunities.

Basic office software proficiency should also be focused on in K-12 schools, the report said, with the schools possibly offering certifications for mastery of the software itself.

3. Growing soft skills

In addition to leveraging digital training and education, workers and students must also work on developing their "human" or "soft" skills, the report said. In doing so, organizations should work on "cultivating particular sorts of soft traits that will maximize the ability of humans to add value in a new machine age," the report said.

By providing exercises to build critical thinking, for example, organizations can make workers more adaptable and flexible to keep up with the rapid pace of technological change. Encouraging a "mindset of constant learning" is also critical, the report said, as workers will be more likely to own their development and work to keep their skills up to date.

Finally, organizations need to provide training or education to enhance interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence among workers and students, the report said. These skills will be in high-demand in the near-future, and broadly applicable across different teams as well.

"The greatest education and training needs placed on families, schools, and firms by the further digitalization of the workplace may not be just the mastery of more and different computer skills." the report said. "Instead, the work ahead will likely be at least as much about getting better at doing the human things the machines cannot."

Also see

digitalskills.jpg
Image: iStockphoto/Wavebreakmedia

About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox