Here in Ireland, we face an uncertain future. With 150,000 digital jobs and an internet economy worth €21.1bn by 2020, Ireland’s digital skills gap could severely thwart economic growth.

This possible loss of billions stems from the fact that Ireland’s performance with regard to digital skills is 11% below the EU average and only 44% of the Irish population have sufficient digital skills, compared with a 55% EU average.

And while Ireland has maintained its top position for the number of graduates in Stem subjects, the index shows that more than half of our adult population are lacking at least basic digital skills – a startling figure.

Jim Cassidy, Code Institute CEO said, “The worldwide shortage of ICT talent that is threatening employment growth across the globe, is also a significant issue here in Ireland. Over the next two years, an expected 12,000 jobs are to go unfilled in the Irish ICT sector, which will have a direct knock-on impact on productivity and growth.”

And with a predicted 9 out of 10 jobs requiring digital skills in future, many of us are still not furnished with the skills essential to work and grow in today’s increasingly digitised and automated world.

An Automated Workplace

According to the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) many Irish people still cannot complete the basic of tasks, including banking, flight booking, passport renewal, bills payment, and everything else that has been automated by new digital technologies.

And, even more worringly, a recent white paper by the Code Institute suggests that, over the next two years, an expected 12,000 jobs are to go unfilled in the Irish ICT sector, which will have a direct bearing on productivity and growth.

However, it is important to recognise that the digital skills crisis is not just an Irish problem. It is a problem facing business and societies across the globe. Speedy advances in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and other emerging technologies are happening in ever quicker circles, changing the very nature of the jobs that need to be done – and the skills needed to do them – faster than ever before.

At least 133 million new roles created as a consequence of the new distribution of labour between humans, machines and algorithms may emerge globally by 2022, according to the World Economic Forum. There will also be strong demand for technological skills like programming and app development, along with skills such as creative thinking, problem-solving and negotiating

Consequently, the way we work and the types of jobs available are rapidly changing everywhere. This has raised serious questions about the future of employment and the role of government, businesses and educators in closing the skills gap.

But some progress has been made. The Digital Skills for Citizens Grant Scheme  has allocated funding of €2.2m to 12 organisations to provide basic digital skills training to people nationwide, while the European Comission is currently pumping 9 billion into projects aimed at improving digital literacy.

It is also wonderful to see the Government prioritise the digital skills deficit with the launch of their Technology Skills 2022 action plan in February. The plan, which incorporates key stakeholders from the public and private sectors, presents a strategic program with solid targets to work towards.

Closing the Irish Digital Skills Gap

Key to combatting a shortage in digital skills is a move from the traditional educational model, which sees most employees stop formal learning once they leave school or higher education, to lifelong learning.

This would see continuous learning become the norm for the vast majority of employees throughout their career – and is something that 85% of senior leaders believe is necessary, according to the Open University.

We must retrain and educate workers with the skills needed to serve in the public sector in the 21st century. We need to impart knowledge to young people, both through apprentice programmes and internships, so that when they join the workforce they are fully able to deal with contemporary digital demands.

The Digital Future

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to enable businesses to future-proof their workforces. However, by making upskilling, reskilling and employee retention priorities and loosening up the resources required to build a perpetual learning culture, businesses will be well-positioned to thrive in this new digital age