Digital Skills — The New Literacy Debate – Forbes

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The definition of what it means to be literate has been transformed dramatically over the past decade. The purist’s definition — the ability to read — has morphed into an understanding of how to use a computer with skill, creativity and with considerable business effect.

With U.K. unemployment dropping to 1.49 million this apparently rosy employment figure is taking place without any real joy or prospects for some, while the race for the top jobs has never been fiercer.

With more than 90% of U.K. jobs requiring some level of IT competency and digital orientation, the so-called ‘digital skills gap’ is said to cost the U.K. economy more than £63 billion in lost additional GDP a year, while a $1 trillion a year loss in productivity is hitting the U.S. economy. The situation, the so-called digital impasse, or digital gap, with its resulting severe economic knock-on effects, should be a concern for all industries and government alike.

Universities and colleges of further education have a huge responsibility to develop students into individuals who can prosper in an era of digital information and communication. Those who are digitally literate are more likely to be economically successful, and these skills are especially important in higher education given that graduate white collar jobs are almost entirely performed on computers and portable devices, and with a large percentage now requiring advanced excel, programming and systems capability.

On a wider national level, labor productivity growth in the U.K. and the U.S, has slowed to levels not seen in decades, a fact that is worrying economists and policymakers alike. Labor productivity growth is a key ingredient in economic growth, and in raising the living standard of the population.

The digital gap seems to be at heart of this condition despite the proliferation of smartphones, laptops, social media use and so on.  Clearly training has not kept pace with technology, and workers, businesses and the entire economy are paying the price.

Today, there is not enough professional development focused on these broader 21st century skills. Deloitte’s human capital trends survey has revealed that despite being a declared the top priority for nine out of 10 U.K. companies, just 13% are ready to meaningfully respond, in terms of education and training, to the digital revolution.

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