Thematic Digest: Digital Skills and Jobs in the Digital Economy

12 February 2023

This Thematic Digest highlights some of the outputs of key YouthForesight partners working on decent jobs for youth in the digital economy. While answering the basic what?, why?, and how? on this issue, it illustrates why equity in connectivity, digital literacy as well as other digital skills are crucial to reducing the digital divide.

What are Digital Skills?

Digital skills are broadly described by UNESCO as the ability to use digital devices, communication applications, and networks to access and manage information. They allow us to create and share content, communicate and collaborate, and solve problems for effective and creative self-fulfillment in life, learning, work, and social activities at large. Read more:

In the meantime, UNICEF outlines in its Global Framework for Transferable Skills that “digital skills and knowledge support the development of digitally literate children and adolescents who can use and understand technology, search for and manage information, communicate, collaborate, create and share content, build knowledge, and solve problems safely, critically and ethically in a way that is appropriate for their age, local language and local culture.” 

Digital Skills Critical for Jobs and Social Inclusion (UNESCO)

Entry-level digital skills, meaning basic functional skills required to make basic use of digital devices and online applications, are widely considered a critical component of a new set of literacy skills in the digital era, together with traditional reading, writing, and numeracy skills. Read more:


Why are Digital Skills Important for Youth?

How many children and young people have internet access at home? (UNICEF, ITU)

At the height of nationwide lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, up to 1.6 billion children were affected by school closures, causing the largest mass disruption of education in modern history. However, 2.2 billion — or two-thirds of children and young people below the age of aged 25 - do not have internet access at home. Read more:

The Future of Jobs Report 2020 (WEF)

WEF estimates that by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines, while 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms. Read more:

Digital Inclusion of Youth (ITU)

As we approach 2030, developing digital skills has become critical to professional success. These skills include generic competencies like conducting internet research, online communication via email or instant messaging, the use of professional online platforms, and knowledge of digital financial services.

It is estimated that tens of millions of future jobs will require far more advanced digital skills, including coding, software and app development, network management, machine learning, Big Data analysis, the Internet of Things (IoT), cybersecurity and Distributed Ledger technologies like blockchain.

All stakeholders, including governments, academia, the private sector, and civil society can design strategies which help develop young people's digital skills and support full economic, social, and digital inclusion for all youth. Digital technology can help enhance education, reduce youth unemployment, and promote socioeconomic development, but for youth to benefit from these opportunities, all young people must be equipped with a range of technological skills and have affordable access to connectivity. Read more:

Global Employment Trends for Youth 2022: Investing in transforming futures for young people (ILO)

The global pandemic has not only made digital learning central to teaching worldwide, it has also widened the digital divide, leaving those without devices and internet connections further behind.

According to the ILO, achieving universal broadband coverage by 2030 could lead to a net increase in employment of 24 million new jobs worldwide, of which 6.4 million would be taken by young people.

Platform‑based gig work can be particularly attractive for young people in low‑ and middle‑income countries: it pays well and the lack of job security is perceived as less problematic by young people given the lack of alternatives. Nevertheless, job instability and the lack of social protection coverage for young digital gig workers are issues that need to be addressed by policymakers. 

Read more:

Education 4.0 (WEF)

There is a unique window of opportunity to invest in Education 4.0: an approach to reimagining education in a way that is inclusive, focuses on a broad range of skills to prepare learners for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and leverages technological and pedagogical innovation to put learners at the centre of learning.

In catalysing Education 4.0, WEF estimates that investment in critical skills for the future such as collaborative problem-solving could add an additional $2.54 trillion in increased productivity to the global economy, with highest relative gains in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. To unlock this transformation, WEF highlights three key investment areas in education, including: new assessment mechanisms; adoption of new learning technologies; and empowerment of the teaching workforce.

Read more: 

Tackling Digital Inequalities and Gender Divide

There are major inequalities in digital skills in both developing and developed countries along a number of lines, notably socio-economic status, race, gender, geography, age and educational background. Gender divides in digital skills are severe: women are 1.6 times more likely than men to report lack of skills as a factor impeding their use of the internet. Without policy interventions, ongoing technological developments threaten to exacerbate the inequalities between those with and without digital skills. 

Stepping Forward: Connecting today’s youth to the digital future

In March 2020, PwC launched a three-year strategic, global collaboration with UNICEF in support of Generation Unlimited, which aimed to help upskill millions of young people around the world. The report identified four core elements that will help youth thrive in a digital world.

  1. Connectivity - Access to reliable power, digital infrastructure, devices, and platforms.
  2. Access - Steady family income, affordable fees, and health and wellness resources. 
  3. Digital literacy - Foundational literacy skills, native language resources and awareness of online risks.
  4. Work-ready skills - Advanced education, training, and access to digital work platforms. 

Read more:


Skills4Girls Partner Toolkit (UNICEF) and Digital Inclusion of Youth (ITU)

Partner’s programs to reduce the gender divide in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and digital skills include UNICEF’s Skills4Girls Portfolio and ITU’s the Girls in ICT initiative. Read more: Skills4Girls Partner Toolkit:

Digital Inclusion of Youth:

The Frontiers of Digital Development Forum

This forum builds on the Global Digital Development Forum and serves to consider more aspirational technologies and their practical utility (or lack thereof) for large-scale humanitarian and development objectives. Read more:

Enabling Young Persons with Disabilities: Inclusive digital skills initiatives (ADECCO, ILO, Nestlé, DJY)

For more than one billion persons with disabilities across the globe, digital skills and accessible digital technologies allow access to information and services in daily life and provide opportunities for decent jobs in the digital economy. However, most trainings that offer the acquisition of in-demand digital skills and certifications still fail to provide equitable opportunities and accessible materials for young persons with disabilities. This is often due to attitudinal, physical, technological, and informational barriers. Read more:


The Role of Young People

When designing and implementing skills development policies, it is important to ensure that young people are actively engaged and their needs addressed. The transition to more digital economies calls for a broad‑based approach to digital literacy coupled with promotion of the acquisition of appropriate technical and digital skills by young people so that they can take full advantage of the new opportunities created. Efforts to shape a more sustainable future require the active involvement and meaningful contribution of young people. Read more:

Youth Agency Marketplace (Yoma)

The Youth Agency Marketplace is a digital ecosystem platform developed by Generation Unlimited and partners (UNICEF, GIZ, and Botnar) where youth can engage in social impact initiatives linked to skilling and economic opportunities. The initiatives align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, creating a youth marketplace for skills, digital profiles, employment, and entrepreneurship. Read more:

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