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Future of Work 2021

Technology drives demand for skills and workers

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Francesca Borgonovi

Head of Skills Analysis , OECD

In a world with increasingly innovative, fast-changing technologies, people with a lifelong learning mindset are more adaptable and versatile, and generally enjoy better outcomes.

When many of today’s workers completed their formal education, technologies such as Zoom, PowerPoint and Slack did not yet exist. As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, individuals who had pursued learning outside the classroom and had updated digital skills were better able to meet new needs.

A lack of digital skills leads to job loss and learning gaps

On average across OECD countries, less than half of adults participate in training, whether formal, such as courses leading to formal qualifications, or non-formal, such as workshops and other forms of employer-provided training.

The pandemic has further reduced opportunities for lifelong learning because social distancing has often replaced classroom learning with distance instruction. Estimates suggest that, on average, during hard lockdowns, participation in informal learning in OECD countries decreased by 25% and participation in non-formal learning by 18%.

Inequalities in internet access, in availability of devices and digital skills exacerbated the impact of the digital divide and spotlighted the effect of skill deficits.

Impact of the digital divide

Even before COVID-19, many schools had already integrated technology into the curriculum. During the pandemic, technology became a lifeline allowing schools to remain open virtually. However, inequalities in internet access, in availability of devices and digital skills exacerbated the impact of the digital divide and spotlighted the effect of skill deficits.

Today, many young people leave school with limited foundation skills, including digital ones, then fail to enhance their skills as they move from formal education into the job market. OECD research suggests that in most countries, new cohorts of students in 2018 had similar levels of achievement as their peers at the beginning of the 21st century and many were lagging behind.

Lifelong learning is key to mastering technology

Now more than ever, societies and economies require stronger foundation skills to drive innovation and progress. Maintaining the status quo is not enough. Keeping pace with changing skills requirements means helping children to develop a habit of learning early on and enhancing individuals’ lifelong learning skills.

Thriving lifelong learning systems place learners at the centre, combining learning methods and providers, have strong accountability and monitoring mechanisms to promote inclusivity. Such diversified learning opportunities help inform individuals’ choices, bolster their motivation to be lifelong learners and ultimately strengthen both individual outcomes and social cohesion by helping everyone acquire strong skills and good work.

Find out more about skills, the digital divide and the future of work at futureofwork.oecd.org/en/getting-ready

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