The impact of digitalisation on life and the world of work in our society has led to the creation of digital jobs, reflecting changing labour market trends and needs. The diversity of jobs in which digital technologies play a central role is constantly growing, as more and more activities rely on information and communication technologies (ICT) to improve performance and efficiency. The concept of digital jobs ranges from technology intensive jobs (e.g. programmers or digital artists) to more traditional jobs that to some extent involved digitalisation (e.g. accountants or delivery drivers). Somewhere in the middle we can find hybrid jobs: where specific specialisation in the field is complemented by relatively advanced digital skills (e.g. stockbrokers, marketing officers, accountants using digital software, etc.). This diversity of digital jobs opens up opportunities for people who grow at any time, i.e. to improve/develop digital skills to perform the tasks that this work requires. The EU has developed job classifications such as ESCO, the European Skills Framework, competences, qualifications and occupations, and specific references such as the e-competence framework, which provide common terminology and descriptions of digital jobs and ICT professional roles, making the labour market clearer and understandable across Europe.
About the author
Luis has had BSc and MSc in the field of informatics from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) since 1989. In 1997, he won the PhD with the Extraordinary Award of the University of Basques. He served as interim lecturer at UPM (1989-1996), professor and head of unit of the Universidad Europea de Madrid (1996-2008) and assistant professor at Universidad de Alcalá (since 2008). He was the CEO of an ICT service SME (2002-2006) and was an independent adviser for large companies. Luis was a member of the Board of Directors of CEPIS (2011-2013, 2016-2020) and has been President of CEPIS since 2022. Over the years, it has helped shape the EU’s reference frameworks for digital skills and employment. As an official expert, Luis actively contributed to the development of three main references in this area: ESCO work classification for ICT services, European e-competence standard for ICT professionals EN6234-1:2019 and DigComp, Digital Competence Framework for Citizens.
The digital world is already affecting almost every part of our lives and this trend is growing and growing. While it is difficult to predict what happens, one fact remains true: the demand for jobs that require digital skills and competences is growing rapidly (Mandl, 2021). Even occupations that are traditionally distant technology are increasingly integrated into their daily and basic activities (e.g. truck drivers and taxis are now constantly using GPS control systems, reservation management applications and delivery plans, etc.). Digitalisation introduces a general paradigm shift in the type of roles and jobs that companies and organisations demand from employees, even more than other current trends, such as internationalisation (Schmerber et al., 2021) or environmental and sustainability aspects (CEDEFOP, 2021).
Digital jobs can be considered as where the application of information and communication technologies (ICT) to a new or existing activity or process is essential, even if other skills may also be essential. TheWorld Bank (2018) considers everyone who ‘uses or is enabled’ to be digital workers. These digital jobs can be found in large corporations, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), NGOs and government and public entities, as they have adopted ICT in their current activities to make them more efficient and effective.
Others tend to focus on ICT jobs (Folea, 2019), those that are very intensive in digital activity or exist exclusively in digital and media companies, and are more easily categorised according to official statistics, e.g. as regularly implemented by Eurostat. This is the reason why people may initially think that these types of jobs appear only in the digital sector, in companies related to media, technology, digital marketing, etc. Since digitalisation now passes through all areas of life, digital jobs are emerging in all sectors and sectors.
Core definitions: occupation, employment and role
When describing the labour market, it is important to first clarify several concepts in order to avoid possible confusion. These are ‘job’, ‘occupation’ and ‘role’. Although there are many different definitions for these concepts, we prefer to adopt the terminology provided by ESCOpedia, an online reference to the official job classification EU ESCO:
“Occupation is a grouping of jobs that involve similar tasks and require a similar set of skills. Occupations should not be confused with jobs or job names. While employment is linked to a specific work context and carried out by one person, the occupation brings together jobs according to common characteristics.’
A ‘job’ is a specific position you occupy within an organisation. The following example can better clarify the concepts: “As administrator of the JobHunter online job offer database” is a job. The ‘database administrator’, ‘database specialist’ or ‘IT engineer’ could be occupations, i.e. the groups of jobs to which the post belongs. The profession can be used as a job title. An employer who takes up the post referred to above may designate the job vacancy by the name of the occupation, e.g. ‘database specialist’.
Finally, a ‘occupational title’ describes a specific job or position of someone, such as an ‘urologist’, while the profession refers to a broader title or the entire field or sector in which someone works, such as ‘doctor’. Many people can share the same profession without sharing the same work title. For example, a ‘IT developer’ is a profession, but there are many different types of developers, such as those specialising in video games and mobile applications.
The ‘role’ stems from the organisational need to do something (CEN/CENELEC, 2018). This is an organisational requirement that can be fulfilled by assigning staff to perform all or part of the tasks necessary to ensure the performance of that task. One person or team can develop multiple roles in their work: for example, one IT manager will act as an IT project manager, an IT systems analyst and even a software developer.
Types of digital jobs
Given the huge and ever-increasing range of potential jobs where digital technologies are necessary to carry out activities and achieve objectives, different types of jobs can be considered depending on their nature and origin. Attempts to categorise digital jobs typically use the intensity of the use of ICT as the main criterion (Kluzer et al., 2020). We can consider three categories of digital jobs (World Bank, 2018), as shown in Table 1 below, with examples taken from the ESCO job classification.
Table 1. Categories of digital jobs linked to ESCO examples
These categories may often overlap. Most ICT-supported jobs are traditionally performed in offices or other standard workplaces, but are now supported by digital tools such as text processing, tables, etc. Jobs subcontracted and/or performed online depend on technology: they could not happen without digitalisation and often require specialised applications or hardware, e.g. 3D design, financial analysis, etc. of course, high ICT jobs can also appear like teleworking, such as programmers or web developers acting as external workers. In general, online platforms or mobile applications do not necessarily create new jobs or require advanced digital skills, but make it possible to offer on-demand services (e.g. food supply) or internationalise the offer of products and services for small producers (e.g. using online retail platforms such as Amazon).
The first category of jobs has emerged in the development of new services and products that are almost entirely based on digital technologies and often emerge in the digital and media industries or sectors. For example, designers and developers of digital video games are only needed if they have consoles available to the public as entertainment. Some of the following posts can be considered as specialisation of other technological posts: digital video game designers and developers can be considered app developers and designers with relevant and strong gaming specialisation. ICT professionals need not only digital skills but also other non-ICT skills or field-specific knowledge, e.g. in insurance, banking or health, if they work for organisations in these sectors. Other jobs, such as a digital artist or a digital community manager who was not originally linked to ICT specialists, are also included in this category.
The ICT-dependent job category is also often referred to as hybrid jobs (e.g. advisors in cryptocurrencies) as they combine relevant qualified work (e.g. financial and investment skills) with specialised digital knowledge (e.g. block chain and algorithms). They often interrupt the traditional division of disciplines and decide who is trained or qualified to develop the activity. For example, biotechnology can often be a biologist with extensive ICT training and skills or sometimes an ICT engineer with specific additional biology education. Another example could now be a library who increasingly needs to work with digital documents and resources, while keeping books in paper format and managing digital subscriptions to newspapers, multimedia, etc. These hybrid digital jobs could be very diverse, as there are many combinations of traditional disciplines specialised in digital technologies, although they are unlikely to generate a large number of available jobs. However, these highly specialised posts are well considered and paid due to their specialisation and the lack of available candidates.
Posts extended to Information and Communication Technologies
The final category includes jobs that existed for a period that was more or less broadly digitised. As mentioned above, delivery drivers have been in place for decades and have changed working methods in line with technological progress, e.g. starting with radio systems for communication, then having more cheaper options with analogue mobile phones and now using smartphones, tablets or consoles connected to mobile data networks, GPS lines and tracking, etc. Digital technologies have apparently enabled cheaper, faster and more trustworthy delivery services, which in turn increased demand and business opportunities. In this case, drivers have of course added the digital skills that are now necessary for their other previous necessary skills, such as the ability to drive. The nature of work is similar to the past, even without digital technology, but is now transformed and streamlined through digital technology.
Importance of terminology and frameworks
The rapid development of technology and the growing presence of digital jobs in organisations, as digital transformation continues in all areas, will inevitably create a sense of ambiguity among many people, including professionals. Names and abbreviations of technologies, symbols of tools and systems, titles of functions or occupations or even certificates of personal qualifications appear and disappear or are simply renamed, for example for communication purposes. In addition, industry and researchers are constantly proposing new methods and tools, which has become obsolete in a few years’ time with what was required, the site and the cutting-edge technology.
This situation is not useful either for employers’ and jobseekers’ orientations or for labour market analysis. Fortunately, the EU has made great efforts to ensure the homogeneity and consistency of working terminology for skills and occupations through ESCO. The European Multilingual Classification of Skills, Competences and Occupations acts as a dictionary that describes, identifies and classifies occupations and skills relevant to the EU labour market. ESCO has 388 occupations and 13,890 skills related to these professions, translated into 27 languages (all official EU languages and Icelandic, Norwegian and Arabic). This common terminology already contributes to the successful integration of refugees in the EU, enabling advanced labour market information tools (e.g.: OVATE) etc.
- Analysts of ICT systems: translate the needs of software users into technical specifications.
- Computer visual engineers: they use advanced techniques to address problems such as autonomous driving, digital image classification, medical image diagnosis, etc.
- Data analysts: theyprepare, organise, validate and interpret large datasets to generate visualisations and interpretations for decision makers.
There are other groups associated with ICT professions, such as:
- ICT technicians (Group 35), such as website administrators responsible for the content and technical work of websites, or ICT helpdesk staff assisting users, responding to their queries or dealing with their computer problems.
- ICT service managers (subgroup 133): CIO (Senior Information Officer), ICT managers and ICT project managers responsible for the success of projects.
- ICT sales specialists (subgroup 2434), such as ICT engineers: they cooperate with the sales team and provide technical guidance for planning and adapting ICT product configurations to meet customer requirements.
ESCO clearly describes each profession with a standard recommended knowledge and skills profile. For example, the description of the ICT Project Manager lists some of his functions, e.g. “planning, controlling and managing resources, people, funding and equipment to achieve the objectives of ICT projects” and recommends some basic skills such as “to provide reports on cost-benefit analysis”, “managers” or “carry out risk analysis” among a large number of others.
Of course, ESCO also describes other intensive digital jobs that are not closely linked to the ICT sector: for example, a digital artist, an online community manager or a digital media designer. One example of describing this category of jobs is the example of a digital prototype: “Transform a paper pattern into digital form using dedicated computer software. They serve and monitor machines that produce various clothing-related products’.
Of course, traditional jobs, which are highly transformed by digitalisation, such as the example of a driver of a car or vans mentioned above ( occupation 8322.2), are also included and typically require digital skills such as “soluble position and navigation problems with GPS tools” or even knowledge such as “data protection”.
Other frameworks can also help us understand the roles and competences that the labour market requires from those working with digital technologies, in particular ICT professionals, but also from other digital intensive actors. Framework
e-competences (e-CF) identify 41 e-competences that describe all possible types of ICT professional work and offer a common language for competences, skills and proficiency levels across Europe. ICT professionals can work in five main areas of work, each linked to a set of skills:
- Planning – conceptualising, designing or deciding on ICT solutions
- Building – development and deployment of systems and applications;
- Operation – supply, support, operation and maintenance of systems and infrastructure;
- Enabling – creating appropriate conditions for ICT-related professional activities;
- Management – Operating and ensuring preparedness and availability of resources and processes for ICT specialists.
Translating e-CF into practice
As part of his or her work, an ICT expert working for a company may need to ensure that the existing ICT infrastructure meets identified or new business needs (competence A.1 Information systems and alignment of business strategies), and may sometimes provide a solution for obtaining valuable information from a large amount of raw data in order to meet business objectives (competence D.7. Data science and analysis). If a new digital solution is designed and tested, the ICT expert must analyse its current characteristics and determine whether the instrument meets the requirements (competence B.3. Testing). In order to ensure business continuity, the ICT expert must maintain existing systems and monitor that they are functioning correctly and are still fulfilling their function (competence C.5. System management or E.6. ICT Quality Management).
In the real world, these activities are carried out at specific levels of competence, depending on the extent to which the ICT professional is able to perform the tasks required. The standardised framework reflects this. For example, to cover level 1 competence, an ICT expert would simply have to follow predefined protocols in order to maintain operating systems. On the other hand, to cover level 5, the ICT expert must have the competence to plan strategic solutions at a much higher level.
When applying competences, ICT professionals often need to use skills and knowledge to achieve the best results: e.g. for e-competence D.10. Information and knowledge management, must know “legislation (IPR, GDPR)” (knowledge K5) and be able to translate/reflect business behaviour into structured information (skills S3).
Based on this standard, there are other documents that are useful for defining relevant aspects of ICT professional activity. For example, standard EN16234-1 also defines 30 professional ICT roles: e.g. DevOps expert, System Architect, role of Network Expert or Information Security Manager. Each of these 30 roles has a recommended set of e-competences with the corresponding proficiency level.
The e-CF is now used by multinational companies and large organisations in the EU, such as La Poste Italiane, Airbus or Tata Steel,and is also acquired in other contexts such as academia and training. In addition, there are multiple use cases where a reference to e-competences is used to define more roles: for example, (CEN/CENELEC, 2022) defines the profile of the ‘online content author’, a digital role that is responsible for producing effective web accessibility content, text and multimedia content (see e-CF profile in Table 2 below).
Table 2. E-CF profile of the role of the ‘internet content author’.
The basis of EN16234-1 has also recently enabled the development of other elements that would better define jobs and other complementary aspects, such as the definition of the knowledge base of professional information and communication technologies, guidelines for the development of ICT training curricula, an ethical framework for ICT professions, etc.
Demand for jobseekers in the digital field
Labour market analysis is complex and accurate predictions of what will happen in the future are always difficult. It is easier to identify traditional ICT professionals. Eurostat regularly offers statistics on the number of ICT specialists in the EU under the Human Capital Section of the DESI (Digital Economy and Society) index. In 2021, there were 9 million ICT professionals in Europe, representing 4.3 % of total employment. Women were still largely under-represented, representing less than 20 % of the total ICT workforce (DESI 2022). Of ICT specialists already employed, just over half (64.5 %) studied computing at a university. This means that there is great scope for those who do not have a formal level of education but have specific digital training and skills. The European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) estimates that around 560,000 ICT technicians and 1,421,000 ICT specialists will be needed in Europe for the period 2020-2030. In response to this need, the European Commission’s Digital Compass was launched, presenting a high-level vision to make the next decade digital and European – by setting a target for 20 million ICT professionals in the EU by 2030.
These figures are even deeper. The EU has developed job classifications and reference frameworks that allow for advanced data collection across different dimensions from the labour market. This common and complete terminology makes it possible to use big data through natural language processing and artificial intelligence. The CEDEFOP OVATE tool offers detailed information on employers’ demand for jobs and skills, based on millions of online job offers collected from different sources (such as private job portals, public employment services portals, recruitment agencies, online newspapers and corporate websites) in 28 European countries. All information is then assigned to ESCO occupations and skills.
The 2021 OVATE data (see graph below) can help us analyse demand for different groups of occupations. As the figure shows, the demand for ICT professionals amounts to 8.2 % and 1.25 % of all online job offers related to ICT technicians, meaning that more than 10 % of all online job offers in 2021 required high ICT intensity and, as a result, technical skills.
Figure 1. Online advertisements for jobs requiring ICT specialists in the first quarter
2021-4th quarter of 2021 in the EU, data obtained from these assessments can help understand the demand for digital skills in all other categories of occupations, together with the ongoing digitalisation of the world of work.
Figure 2. Percentage of job ads mentioning each general digital skill in Q1 2021 – Q4 2021 in the EU
As Figure 2 shows, most jobs require general digital skills, such as ‘working with computers’, basic knowledge of ‘ICT’ and ‘information skills’, which are considered to be the most demanded. More specific skills are also mentioned (to a lesser extent in demand), such as the ability to use digital tools for collaboration and productivity, or the ability to set up or program computer systems (see Figure 3 below, Percentage of job ads mentioning each specific digital skill in Q1 2021 – Q4 2021 in the EU).
Figure 3. Percentage of job ads mentioning each specific digital skill in Q1 2021 – Q4 2021 in the EU
This makes it difficult to monitor all digital professional activities, especially if we want to take into account the self-employed, workers in the gig economy and outsourcing practices. One interesting preliminary study by Kassi et al. (2021), however, estimates that 5 million full-time professionals are currently working in these areas and 19 million workers are engaged in gig economy activities. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe has not only accelerated the digitalisation of occupations, but has also increased people’s interest in digital nomadic jobs, i.e. teleworking that can be done exclusively online (Nagel, 2020).
Looking at the future of work and the EU’s Digital Decade
This ‘digital increase’ caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe has shown that workers need to acquire both basic and advanced ICT skills in order to remain competitive in an ever-changing labour market. And IT employment forecasts confirm that the demand for IT skills remains and will remain very strong in the coming years (Martin Sundblad and Marianne Kolding, 2022). In addition, the rapid development of technologies will mean shifts in skills sets for ICT job roles. Many jobs employers will have to fill by 2030 will require higher levels of digital skills (McKinsey &Co, 2020). For other categories of digital jobs, the perspective is similar to the horizon of 2030 (McKinsey & Company, 2017).
A recent Monte Carlo simulation (Codagnone et al., 2021) shows that without significant investment in digital skills, upskilling and reskilling, Europe will not achieve the Digital Decade targets of 80 % of EU citizens with at least basic digital skills, which will also fall short of the target of 20 million ICT professionals by 2030. Instead, the simulation estimates that only 64 % of Europeans will have basic digital skills (16 % below the target) and only 13.3 million ICT specialists in employment by 2030, 6.7 million below the target (EIT Digital, 2022).
Automation is also a factor: digital technologies are evolving at a fast pace and the tasks and activities of the average worker will have to change in the future. How? Depends. The McKinsey &Co report (2017) estimates that up to 30 % of global hours worked could be automated by 2030, depending on the pace of ICT deployment and emerging technologies. This means that skills must quickly catch up with the current situation.
Given the exponential increase in the supply of and demand for digital skills, proactive training and support for employees must be presented so that they can either deepen their existing skills sets or acquire new ones. European companies and organisations should place great emphasis on reskilling their workforce and attracting new talent. There is a need to strengthen the power of public-private partnerships in the areas of skills and to involve all stakeholders in the digital skills and jobs community. And it’s not all: education and training systems play a key role in building a ‘new generation workforce’(emphasis added, 2021) and can help bridge the gap between the existing education supply and the skills the labour market needs and is looking for.
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⚠ disclaimer: The text has been automatically translated from the European platform Digital Skills and Jobs. If you have found errors in the text, please contact email@example.com