Skills Intelligence Publication

The digital transition is all around us, but not all workers benefit equally. Many are not exposed to digital technology or are employed in low-skilled, routine and non-complex jobs. This report presents valuable evidence from Cedefop’s second European skills and jobs survey (ESJS2), covering over 46 000 adult workers in 29 European countries. It illustrates the impact of the pandemic, maps the use of different types of digital technology and reflects on their implications for changing tasks, skills needs and skill mismatches. The wealth of new evidence supports the EU’s digital and skills agendas and their ambitious targets. In this report Cedefop makes the case for placing worker wellbeing and quality jobs at the core of Europe’s digital transition.

This report clearly shows that the digital transition is first and foremost a skills transition, not an uncontrollable job destructing megatrend. Some jobs will be lost and some tasks will be taken over by robots or other technology but, simultaneously, new jobs and tasks will emerge. EU digitalisation, (vocational) education and training and skills policies rightly emphasise how crucial it is that Europe’s citizens have the possibilities and means to develop, upgrade or update their digital skills. To be fully effective, such policies need to be complemented with innovative approaches to promoting skills utilisation in work, by reshaping or redesigning jobs, maximising their learning potential, empowering workers or via new approaches to work organisation.

Differences in the take-up of remote work and use of new digital technologies at work are widening digital divides in European labour markets. EU skills policy can contribute to making more lower-skilled jobs become resilient proactively, so that future health crises, social emergencies and other shocks can be managed better. This entails more systematically promoting and marketing the potential of digital technologies for sustainable work. Good practices showcasing how businesses in vulnerable sectors and occupations managed to survive the shock of the pandemic and thrived with the help of digital technology can inspire policy-makers in making labour markets and societies more resilient.

EU digital, social, VET, skills and related policies already have a strong focus on closing digital divides. ESJS2 evidence confirms the importance of broad approaches that recognise real change does not happen with measures that take a one-size-fits-all principle as their starting point. Apart from mitigating the fundamental digital skill gaps of adult workers in jobs of (very) low digital intensity, also those exposed to technological innovation in digitally intense, high-skilled jobs can significantly benefit. Countering skills-displacing technological obsolescence and enabling workers to fully reap the benefits of new digital technology are among the most important design principles. A more systematic approach to designing and delivering CVET contributes to making workers aware of their learning and productivity potential.

The Report shows that, in spite of the digitalisation push of the pandemic, lack of investment in digital infrastructure and slow progress in adapting to new digital working modes remains a reality in many of today’s EU jobs. Better coordination between fiscal, digital, social, VET, skills and related policies and systematic skills ecosystem thinking can contribute to boosting the number of more digitally complex jobs and facilitate designing incentives that boost digital upskilling of workers.

In implementing digital, VET, skills and related policies, reaching out to workers most in need of digital skills training (prioritising lower-educated and older workers, females, people living in rural areas, or those employed in low or semi-skilled jobs and smaller-sized establishments) should be a priority. Skills identification, validation and guidance to map the (informal) digital skills of workers eases the transition to jobs that make better use of their digital skills. Overcoming information gaps resulting from lacking exposure to technology is important. Such gaps are a barrier to adult workers accepting and embracing technology and make investing in their digital skills less likely.

Elevating skill demand and job complexity in European firms via demand side interventions is crucial to making better use of the skills European workers have. These complement supply-side measures to combat skill mismatch (e.g. better labour market intelligence, career guidance and counselling, VET provision), which – while instrumental in their own right – cannot fully overcome mismatches. To implement effective workforce innovation programmes, strengthening managerial education and training and showcasing good practice examples of human-centred job design and digital investments are essential. Evidence and policy can support businesses in aligning corporate digital and innovation strategies with skills investments and utilisation practices and help them strengthen, attain or regain competitiveness.