Businesses, governments, universities, nonprofits, and other organizations are entering a new era of connectivity and technology. Whether to boost productivity, improve public services, or help make cities more sustainable, this rapid adoption of technology is creating endless benefits. However, one challenge is threatening to stall the digital transformation of the future: the growing digital skills shortage and critical vacancies in cyber- and IT-related jobs.
Governments around the world are correct to be launching and implementing innovation agendas, but success will be fractional if countries do not have workforces with 21st-century digital skills. Digital skills, in the many forms that they take, and the future generations of STEM leaders need to be seen as the foundation for modern, resilient economies.
Cisco recognizes this and is committing resources to address this issue. We believe that there are untapped pools of talent across the globe. We know this to be true because of our 25-year history of equipping people with digital skills.
Cisco’s Networking Academy — one of the longest-standing IT skills-to-jobs programs in the world — has trained more than 17.5 million learners across 190 countries. Designed so that any person with an internet connection can participate, it opens the door to educational opportunities and meaningful career paths in critical domains such as networking, cybersecurity, programming, and data science.
In addition to bridging the skills divide and helping address crucial worker shortages, Networking Academy is empowering a more diverse and inclusive workforce in jobs with low barriers to entry and substantial income potential.
But to truly address the digital skills shortage, governments and industry must work together.
Here are six public policies that Cisco believes can tackle this 21st-century crisis
and ensure our countries realize the full potential of the digital economy:
- Every child needs access to basic digital skills training to get online safely, think critically about technology, operate basic technologies, and utilize common software and hardware. To do this successfully, governments need to feature digital skills across curricula and ensure schools have adequate connectivity and access to the right hardware and software. Equally important is having teachers with the skills, training, and experience to deliver digital skills content confidently.
- Governments, educational institutions, and businesses need to work together to deliver more work vocational training and apprenticeships. This is particularly valuable at the high school/secondary education level, but it can also extend beyond the traditional classroom to include non-profits, military bases, community centers, and even prisons. Employers increasingly value technical/vocational skills and employees who have some form of work experience. Businesses and policymakers should discuss how to establish national programs that incentivize the uptake of apprenticeships, and employers should adapt hiring practices to recognize the increasingly diverse routes people are using to gain new skills.
- Increased investment in advanced digital skills courses covering IT networking, data science, cybersecurity, mathematics, artificial intelligence, programming, etc.—particularly at the university or post-secondary education levels. Universities and students need vital government support to ensure a large talent pool is introduced to these courses.
- Governments should consider what incentives employers need to invest in learning and development programs. Given the pace of technological change, digital skills need constant updating. To do this successfully, employers must invest in initiatives that allow employees to reskill and upskill. Small and medium-sized businesses particularly need support from the government to ensure their employees and leadership can take full advantage of tech adoption.
- Governments should assess how they can help direct and guide potential learners toward existing private sector offers. Private sector skills programs, such as Cisco’s Networking Academy, can be leveraged as part of a rich ecosystem of digital skills training designed to make digital skills learning as open, accessible, and inclusive as possible for people who are looking to upskill, reskill, or even change careers.
- Investment in public education systems is needed. To nurture a modern, confident workforce with the digital skills to use and develop technological solutions effectively, our schools, libraries, and other learning environments need high-quality, future-proof connectivity and secure networking and devices.
If we fail to address the digital skills shortage, our public institutions, businesses, and flourishing digital economy will be at risk. Using the policies outlined here, it’s time to promote and open conversations that can lead to Cisco and other companies working in lockstep with governments on this critical challenge.