Cedefop investigates how the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated digital skills demand in ICT- and non-ICT-related occupations.

In modern societies, digital skills function as an enabler of active citizenship and a driver of green and digital transitions. Apart from particular sectors and occupations (e.g. ICT technicians and ICT professionals) which develop and provide digital goods and services, these skills are increasingly becoming a transversal requirement in most occupations and sectors.

Digital divides in Europe

Only three in 10 EU citizens had above basic digital skills in 2019, with significant regional differences. In northern and western EU Member States, digital skills are much better developed than in countries in the south and east.  

Figure 1: Share of individuals (aged 16-74) with above basic digital skills in 2019

Source: Cedefop Skills Panorama, Digital skills use, own calculations.

A digital divide also exists between different age groups. Unsurprisingly, young people tend to have a much higher level of digital skills than the rest of the population. In many eastern European countries, older people not only have less developed digital skills, but also lack sufficient access to suitable training opportunities.

A third digital divide is determined by the degree of urbanisation, with rural – but often also suburban – areas lagging significantly behind metropolitan areas. Eastern and southern Member States appear to be most affected by this challenge. With young people often leaving rural areas for cities, age and degree of urbanisation are mutually reinforcing factors shaping the digital divide.

Jobs requiring higher-level ICT skills are also heavily concentrated in urban areas. More than a third of online job ads for these occupations is for jobs in just 12 (of the 281 EU NUTS-2 regions), mostly urban regions.

Figure 2: Demand for occupations with advanced digital skills by NUTS-2 region (2020)

NB: Darker colours on the map indicate a higher share of total demand across regions.

Source: Cedefop Skills OVATE. Own calculations.  (data collected between July 2018 and June 2020).

Jobs with a high digital skills demand

ICT knowledge and digital skills (i.e. ability to apply ICT knowledge) are among the most important assets requested in online job advertisements. Roughly one in every four knowledge areas and one in five skills requested in online job ads related to ICT, is a digital one.

Figure 3: ICT knowledge areas and digital skills most requested in online job advertisements

Source: Cedefop Skills OVATE. Own calculations. (data collected between July 2018 and June 2020).

ICT knowledge and digital skills are mostly requested from ICT professionals and ICT technicians, followed by research, engineering and clerical occupations. Elementary workers, factory workers and people providing personal services rely comparatively much less on digital skills.

Rising digital skills demand in non-ICT occupations

The coronavirus pandemic and its wide-ranging implications have accelerated digital skills demand in many occupations, especially non-ICT ones. Effective use of digital skills has proven to be a driver of resilience, helping workers and entire organisations adapt to the new realities shaped by the pandemic. Particularly in the retail and service sectors, where it is difficult to deliver products and services remotely, digital skills can spur the transformation of business models and help avoid lay-offs and bankruptcies. Digital skills also enabled continued provision of public and private services. They helped many workers for whom digital skills were not critical before the pandemic (for example teachers, clerical and other office workers) to shift to remote working virtually overnight.

In some occupations and economic sectors – such as food and accommodation, wholesale and retail trade or arts and recreation – digitalisation and remote work was a less straightforward option. But digital transformation in these sectors is also moving forward: companies are developing solutions to protect their sales workers, attendants, receptionists, waiters or cashiers. Creative and smart application of digital technologies mitigates the impact of lockdowns and social distancing measures.

In tourism, remote provision of services, such as hotel check-ins, food ordering or ticket sales, is expanding. Arts and recreation providers are applying similar approaches, with products such as virtual tours and exhibitions. The rapid digitalisation in retail led to an expansion of e-commerce in a few months equal to that forecasted (pre Covid-19) for the next five years. Skills demand changed in response, as the new normal suddenly required more back office staff dealing with online orders and more people in packaging and delivery services. It is indicative that during lockdown, 28% of Europeans shopped for groceries online, up from 18% before the pandemic.

These changes, once ingrained into an organisation’s business model and customer behaviour, may become permanent, well beyond the pandemic period. And while some jobs will remain unaffected by digital technologies, digitalisation will increasingly continue shaping skills, tasks and jobs.

Role of policy-makers in improving digital skills

Strengthening digital competences is a priority area for both EU Member States and candidate countries. While there are many activities focusing on initial vocational education and training (IVET) learners, more extensive progress needs to be made in continuing VET, addressing the digital skill gap of adult citizens. In addition, training teachers and trainers in digital competences so that they can effectively support learners, is often an underdeveloped part of national skill systems. Technological innovation and digitalisation have the potential to transform learning fundamentally – not only by equipping the population with digital skills so they can work and engage in active citizenship, but also by improving access to learning, as made evident by the pandemic.

You will find the full analysis on digital skills on the Cedefop Skills Panorama website . More findings on the impact of the pandemic on skills, occupations, the labour market and VET is available on Cedefop’s response to the coronavirus crisis web page.