Digital Skills, Present and Future

Home / Blog / Edu / Digital Skills, Present and Future22 Settembre 2021Digital Skills, Present and Future

Technology is now an integral part of our lives, both work and personal, and all the devices we are surrounded by are shaping our habits. However, this is not reflected in the actual level of digital skills in Italy: in the ranking of all European countries, Italy is placed 25th out of 28.

In 2020, having various types of IT and digital skills is essential in order not to be left behind. The digital transformation brings with it opportunities to be seized to allow for economic and social development of citizens.

According to the World Economic Forum, 65% of children who go to school today once they graduate from high school or university, will be in jobs that do not yet exist (regarding this, have you seen Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk?). This is because we are in a world of rapid technological and digital transformation.

The digital skills required in the world of work, identified by the European framework, concern ICT security, digital data processing, communication and collaboration via digital means, problem solving when using hardware and software and creating digital content. It is necessary to develop integrated skills, programming and developing “logical thinking” to keep up with innovations. Furthermore, digital competence has now become a key element in lifelong learning pathways.

Italy in Trouble

But where are we in Italy with digital skills? According to the 2018 report by the Observatory on Digital Skills (a project sponsored by MIUR and AGID in partnership with AICA, Anitec-Assinform, Assintel and Assinter Italia), digital skills have become an essential component of professions, not only technical ones, but activities that are not strictly IT, precisely because they are transversal working skills, which also impact more traditional working environments.

The digital skills rate (DSR – Digital Skills Rate, an index created by the Observatory) is more evident in the industry. Here it is around 20% for support and management functions and 17% for the more specialized figures such as design, research and development, and marketing. In Italy, only 16.2% of companies with at least 10 employees employ ICT professionals compared to 72.3% of large companies.

In Italy the “skills mismatch” phenomenon is widespread: according to a 2015 OECD study, the skills possessed by workers are not the same as those sought by companies. This misalignment is also reflected in the fact that there are over-skilled workers for the available positions.

Digital skills are the skills most sought after by companies, almost 64% of the 4 million job opportunities require them. However, these skills are not linked to an IT or digital specialization: in 57.7% of cases they consist of “use of internet technologies and the ability to manage visual and multimedia communication tools.”

It is difficult to find the right candidates because they seem to have insufficient preparation and there may be two reasons: the profiles sought are scarce and the preparation of the candidates is inadequate. The first reason could depend on younger people and their lack of awareness of the potential of digital. The second reason is certainly due to companies and their inadequate investments in training. In fact, only 38% of companies invest in the development of their employees’ digital skills (survey “The Future Is Today: Are You Ready?” by University2Business).


The PISA-OECD survey, which is aimed at 15-year-old students and examines their abilities in mathematics, science and text comprehension, shows that their access to new technologies has significantly increased.

Only 15% of students in OECD countries report that they do not have an internet connection at home. But the fact of being more and more connected does not necessarily mean having acquired greater computer skills that are sufficient to face an ever-changing world.

Regarding Italy, the results to be highlighted (which also take into account other dimensions to draw a broader picture of the learning path) are:

  • poor basic digital skills;
  • little attraction to a professional path focused on STEM disciplines (only 7% of boys intend to work in the
  • ICT field, while this percentage is almost none among girls);
  • the weight of socio-economic conditions on the completion of studies (only 3 out of 5 students in disadvantaged conditions think they will finish university);
  • a significant gender gap (the performance of girls decreased compared that of boys which remained stable.

As for teachers, they are in 72nd place out of 79 (countries considered) for digital skills in Europe, 50% of them (around 800,000) do not have digital skills, even if according to school administrators the resources are there to learn how to use digital devices (and certainly progress was made during the prior months of lockdown).

The Situation in Europe

The DESI (Digital Economy and Society Index) monitors the performance of European states in terms of broadband connectivity, digital skills, online activities and the digitization of businesses and public services.

As already mentioned, Italy is 25th in the ranking among 28 Member States (plus the European average), with only Romania, Greece and Bulgaria being worse. Compared to the European average, Italy has very low levels of digital skills. It is also true that in our country about 10 million people do not use the Internet (39% of whom are over 65); moreover, only 24% of citizens access public services via the web.

DESI 2020. Classifica paesi europei per livello di digital skills.

However, this is a problem that does not only concern us but many other countries of the Union. The report published by the European Commission states that 85% of citizens were using the Internet in 2019. Nevertheless, only 58% possess basic digital skills.

In Europe, 9 out of 10 jobs will require digital skills but at the same time 169 million Europeans between the ages of 16 and 74 (44%) do not have basic or sufficient digital skills. These numbers cause concern when compared with the trend highlighted by the European Commission, according to which the demand for workers in the ICT sector grows by 4% every year, conditions that endanger the growth potential and (digital) competitiveness of the Union. It is estimated that around this area is lacking around 756,000 professionals as of 2020.

In 2016, therefore, the EC launched the New Skills Agenda for Europe, a new agenda centered around digital skills. It included initiatives that would allow all citizens to develop basic and transversal skills useful for the labor market in Europe. In this regard, Member States were also invited to define their own national strategies by 2017. Many other initiatives have more recently arisen.

Italy, Digital Republic (In Progress)

The problem of digital skills therefore concerns the whole of Europe and the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition was born to try to solve it. It brings together the Member States, companies and organizations involved in digital. The goal is to improve digital knowledge throughout Europe through training for the unemployed, courses for teachers and children, and advanced training for specialists. All States are tasked with implementing national strategies regarding the training.

Italy is part of this coalition with the “Digital Republic” project launched by the Ministry for Technological Innovation and Digitization, with the participation of the Ministry of University Research and the Ministry of Economic Development. The objectives to be achieved by 2025 (Italy 2025 Plan) consist in promoting digital inclusion and the adaptation of citizens’ knowledge, up to reducing digital illiteracy to reach levels of the European reference countries such as Finland, Sweden and Estonia which are the Member States with the highest levels of digitization and digital culture.

Outside of Europe, the main global competitors are China, in whose hands the future of 5G lies, and the USA, which dominates the cloud market thanks to Google, Microsoft and Amazon.

In this regard, the European Commission presented the document “A Europe fit for the digital age: Towards a truly European digital society,” a strategy to be adopted within the next 5 years to bridge the digital divide of approximately 190 billion euros between the two powers.

The document touches on various issues such as personal data privacy, the new for new competition rules in the technological field and the need to bridge the digital skills gap. Europe must return to pole position in the provision of infrastructure and content that can be used via the web.

For autumn, a plan is scheduled that will lead to an increase in the possession of basic digital skills from 57% to 70% in 5 years. The goal is to bridge the present gap in Europe in the labor market between the supply and demand of skilled people.

There are, therefore, no lack of solutions at the European and national level. Perhaps now we need policies at the local level that are closer to individual citizens so that they can improve their skills.


Testo Originale:  Federica Landriscina / Traduzione: Peter Briggs

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