Digital skills are increasingly in demand across many industries. Recent industry reports argue that a shortage of people in the workforce skilled in information and communications technology (ICT) is inhibiting the growth of innovative companies around the world. Some argue that in Canada, this global challenge is exacerbated by Canadian firms’ historic tendency to adopt new technologies at a slower than average speed — a hesitancy many argue is itself the result of previous shortages of skilled technology workers.
While the origins and extent of the “digital skills gap” may be the source of some disagreement, this paper argues that the existence of this gap is real, provided a gap is understood as a lack of candidates with the skills required by particular employers. Critically, however, its causes may be more complex than are commonly understood. For example, the under-employment of skilled immigrants and under-representation of women and other groups in the ICT industry suggests that recruitment and retention policies and practices of the very firms complaining about this gap may be contributing to the problem.
While there are multiple pathways to “digital careers,” accessing them requires innovation in skills development and in approaches to defining these roles. Yet a review of the most relevant digital skills frameworks shows there is little common understanding of the actual skills or knowledge that contribute to the skills gap; little common understanding of the dimensions of learning and training needed to improve it; muddled distinctions between areas of knowledge, competencies, skills and tools needed for 21st-century learning or work; and very little identification of skill levels.
- Canada’s language to describe occupations in the labour market leaves out or mixes up many digital skills, competencies, tools and jobs. This could be stifling Canada’s economic growth and innovation. Without an agreed-upon definition of digital skills, it’s hard to hire the right people.
- The under-employment of skilled immigrants (not to mention under-representation of women and other groups) in the ICT industry suggests that recruitment and retention policies and practices of the very firms complaining about this gap may be contributing to the problem.