In an increasingly digital world where the skill needs of employers are continuously evolving, policy makers need to make sure that everyone can participate and learn new skills. Recent technological change has shifted skill demands predominantly towards high- level skills. Workers need to be prepared to change jobs over their working life while avoiding unemployment or ending up in a lower paying job. ICT foundation skills are becoming increasingly important in order to benefit from technological innovation in terms of better employment chances and higher wages.
The evidence on how well countries are prepared for the digital economy is rather disturbing. The OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) suggests that more than 50% of the adult population on average in 28 OECD countries can only carry out the simplest set of computer tasks, such as writing an email and browsing the web, or have no ICT skills at all (see Figure 1). Only around a third of workers have more advanced cognitive skills that enable them to evaluate problems and find solutions (OECD, 2013). As a result, many workers use ICTs regularly without adequate ICT skills: on average, over 40% of those using software at work every day do not have the skills required to use digital technologies effectively (OECD, 2016a).
To seize the benefits of technological change, economies need ICT specialists: workers who can code, develop applications, manage networks and manage and analyse Big Data, among other skills. These skills enable innovation in a digital economy to flourish, but also support the infrastructure that firms, governments, commerce and users rely on (OECD, 2015a). However, besides these experts, digitalisation also calls for all workers to have a relatively high minimum level of ICT skills, even those in low-skilled jobs. For instance, this is the case for blue-collar workers in factories that are entirely automated or waiters having to take orders on iPads.