20 November 2018

Digital (skills) gap. The digital emergency is impending!

The advent of the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) is leading companies (public and private) to a new dimension, which has profoundly changed the traditional paradigms of the labour market.

New technologies make possible what previously seemed impossible, that is true, but they represent “only” the instruments through which we can get to new landing zones. They too, therefore, need adequate resources to perform at their best. When we talk about Cloud, IoT, Mobile, Analytic, Blockchain, AI, we place at the cornerstone of our topic a clear fact, that is the increasingly important impact of the “digital component” on the current landscape, especially on the labour market.

Today, the digital world emerges as a key element in all trades, old and new. The current context shows that, with a growing demand for skilled resources and adapted to the new needs of digital transformation, the supply is largely insufficient with future forecasts far from being encouraging.

We are contributing to the growth of a deficit that risks to become a global emergency in the coming years: the digital gap. The digital gap is nothing but the lack of available digital skills compared to those required by the labour market. It may seem a paradox in a context like the current one, but there is a lack of resources, of people with the digital skills companies, operators and organizations are looking for today.

A tangible problem that has also affected the European Commission and the World Economic Forum (WEF). Since 2016, a consultation on digital skills and jobs has been launched between EU Member States, businesses, social partners, NGOs and education professionals. The aim is precisely to reduce the digital skills gap at all levels, from high-level specialist skills to basic skills, which are essential for the new European digital citizen.

The digital skills gap is a social and institutional problem. Quantitatively and qualitatively, people capable of fully understanding the innovative potential of digital are needed to access the tactical and strategic (and therefore competitive) advantages of digital for businesses. In a context of turnover in which many jobs are dying, and others are evolving, new jobs are highlighting the “human deficit” of resources with digital and technological skills will reach 830,000 units by 2020 (EU data).


The digital skills required in this transition phase are linked, in particular, to ICT and the Web, to the evolution of Telco and to the various channels of production, distribution, sales, marketing, communication and service alike.

More and more companies are looking for developers, data scientists, system engineers, machine learning specialists, analysts, computer engineers, robotic engineers, social media analysts and specialists, experts in cloud, cybersecurity and blockchain.

It is the European Commission itself that emphasises the difficulty for companies in finding ICT specialists. By 2020, there will be more than 500,000 vacancies in this area. The demand for STEM qualified skills (Science, Technology, Enginnering and Mathematics) far exceeds the supply already, and the trend, as we anticipated, tends towards an exponential growth of the gap.

Schools and universities, in Italy more than in other countries, are struggling to make the educational offer attractive for these new needs of the labour market.

The risk is to “produce” graduates without adequate tools. The data confirm this:

  • 65% of Italian students have never heard of the Internet of Things;
  • 73% have never heard of cognitive computing;
  • 85.5% have never heard of Blockchain;
  • 64% have never heard of Big Data in Computer Science;
  • 85% have never heard of electronic invoicing.

(Source: “The future is today” report, University2Business).

Companies have adopted the principles of Open Innovation to begin reducing this gap, finding important answers.

Open innovation is a new strategic and cultural approach according to which, in order to be competitive, to create more value and make oneself attractive on the market, a resource no longer just draws on ideas and internal resources, but also on ideas, solutions, tools and technological skills that come from outside, especially from startups, universities, research institutes, suppliers, inventors, programmers and consultants.

The specialists, in fact, can be selected and chosen regardless of their geographical location. This is how the digital gap began to be compensated, but this is not enough.

In the next few years, around 90% of the “trades” will require a digital background. There is a need for structural intervention, which involves all levels of the issue, starting with education and which cannot, of course, be delegated to the individual initiatives of companies.


Danilo Stancato