ITU Harps on Digital Skills to Promote Transformation


By Emma Okonji

The International Telecoms Union (ITU), a specialised agency of the United Nations responsible for global telecoms regulation, has called on member-countries, Nigeria inclusive, to develop digital skills among their citizens in order to promote the global transformation.

In the 2020 edition of its, ‘Digital Skills Insights’, a collection of articles by international experts on the impact of digital transformation on capacity and skills development, the body advised member countries to begin aggressive development of digital skills, in line with global digital transformation drive.

In eight articles, the publication reviewed the interrelationship between digital connectivity and digital skills, as well as the correlation with education, gender, digital divides and the transformative aspects within the labour market.

The body, however, warned that none of these should be addressed in isolation but be part of a holistic approach to ensure countries’ successful transition to a digital economy.

Analysing the 2020 release, ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao, said: ‘Digital Skills Insights’ 2020 provides a body of knowledge that will facilitate academic research and innovation; inform policy debates and decisions among policy-makers and regulators; and help the private sector to anticipate and plan for human capital requirements and skills.

“The vital importance of digital skills to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals has been brought into sharp perspective during the COVID-19 crisis. The expert contributions in ‘Digital Skills Insights’ are helping to ensure that digital skill gaps do not exacerbate existing inequalities.”

According to ITU data, in 2019, 46 per cent of the world population was not using the Internet. This number increased to almost 80 per cent in least developed countries. A large majority of the global population, about 93 per cent lives in an area covered by at least a 3G mobile signal/service, however, the lack of skills is a barrier for many to use the Internet’s full potential.

Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT), Doreen Bogdan-Martin, said: “In the wake of COVID–19, the importance of digital skills has never been so evident, nor so urgent. Those lucky enough to enjoy fast connectivity took refuge from the global health emergency by moving to a virtual environment for economic continuity, education, and interpersonal contact. However, those lacking access to digital networks and skills were left even further behind. I hope this publication stimulates important discussions on the best strategies to rapidly strengthen the capacities and skills required to profit fully from the benefits of digital transformation.”

Giving tips on how best to address digital skills gaps, ITU said: ‘Digital Skills Insights’ provides concrete suggestions and recommendations on how some of these challenges can be addressed to better understand and bridge the digital divide, such as: governments, businesses, educational systems and society need to work together to support a dynamic workforce and constantly redefine the skills demanded by future jobs.

ITU suggested that further training and retraining would be necessary since employees will have to engage in lifelong learning if they are to be capable of responding to changes in skills requirements triggered by automation and digitization.

ITU further advised that data literacy among citizens should be tackled by policy makers and practitioners through targeted data literacy programmes to enhance citizens’ abilities to participate in the digital society.

According to ITU, “In sub-Saharan Africa, building human capital, specifically in digital skills, is critical for the region to leverage the benefits of the digital economy. Female participation in digital skills capacity development programmes can be increased by including more women in the programme design, reaching out to parents and community leaders in the recruitment of participants, and engaging female career role models.

Bridging the digital gender gap relies on gender-responsive ICT policy and therefore the digital capabilities of policy-makers need to be strengthened for them to better understand the barriers to internet access women face, and to equip them with the tools to promote more gender-inclusive public policy.”