The future of work is happening today. Today’s working environment has changed dramatically, with an ever-increasing emphasis on digital technologies. However, many still lack access to the basic tools and knowledge that will enable them to thrive in this world. On February 25, 2021, Salesforce led a discussion, with representatives from the ILO, UNESCO, and Visa, around bridging the skills gap and arming current and future generations with the knowledge and capabilities they need to succeed.
As highlighted by Borhene Chakroun, the world is facing three key issues brought about by the pandemic: i) a learning crisis, since around 1.6 billion learners have been affected—in many cases, these people will face problems around further learning, as well as lower economic revenue and difficulties with social engagement; ii) a work crisis, particularly in the informal economy; and iii) a socioeconomic crisis, given that the pandemic is affecting quality of life and socioemotional wellbeing. Chakroun also made an analogy to point out the gaps that exist in terms of connectivity and other conditions that are required to overcome the crisis: “We are all under the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat”. Some people cannot telework or access distance learning due to connectivity issues or even because they do not have optimal health and/or the appropriate family/cultural context to do so.
Over the past few years, the existing skills gap has really come to light. According to Heather Conklin, this gap is widening with the pace of technological change in the world today. To address this problem, in 2014 Salesforce created Trailhead, a platform where anybody can learn for free and “skill up” for the jobs of the future. Through this platform, the company is generating opportunities for people and building more equitable pathways into jobs and technology.
Patrick Daru believes that single platforms will not be the ultimate answer. Systemic solutions that change the education and skills training systems within countries are necessary. He highlighted that some individual initiatives are successful, but there is still a need for a coordinated framework. Daru also remarked that digital solutions should not be reduced to a platform. Rather, it is important to take into account all the potential benefits they bring to education and skills training systems in terms of transparency, accountability, and decision making. For example, digital solutions can be useful for school accreditation, financial decisions, tracking student progress, testing, and certification.
Beth Hurvitz stated thatthe pandemic has accelerated about three years of digital change into a couple of months, which in turn has created skills gaps. Since Visa believes education makes up part of that gap, the company has created digital programs such as Practical Money Skills and Practical Business Skills to bring financial education to life through lessons, tools, and resources available to everybody. These programs stem from the company’s commitment to inclusive economic development, as digital transformation is critical to the post-COVID economic recovery. Small and micro businesses are the backbone of economies around the world, counting for around 90% of global business and around 60% of GDP in low-income countries. For this reason, Hurvitz also emphasized that it is crucial to support owners so they can acquire the resources and skills they need to compete in an increasingly digital economy.
Salesforce has partnered with the U.S military to make possible the Hiring Our Heroes initiative, because it is essential not only to skill people up but also to help them get placed into the jobs they are pursuing.
Chakroun outlined three questions that need to be asked when exploring digital learning opportunities: i) How do you build the sustainability of a program when it is not embedded in the national system? ii) How do you value the credentials and the learning outcomes in the labor market? and iii) How do you reach the most marginalized and the most disadvantaged?
As highlighted by Conklin, approaching different audiences is key to breaking things down so that information can be accessible for everyone and so that anyone, regardless of their background, can get started and learn.
Chakroun discussed the relevance of having incentives for companies to invest in skills, as well as incentives for individuals to engage in learning. For companies, there are mechanisms such as tax returns in the payroll. For individuals, there are mechanisms like providing vouchers. The world needs to focus on incentivizing the development of skills that are required for the transition to a more sustainable economy and a more democratic and inclusive society.
Hurvitz defined digital equity as the assurance that all individuals and businesses are provided opportunities to participate in—and receive the full benefits of—digital platforms, including the appropriation of services, knowledge, and skills building.
Chakroun closed the conversation by stating that there are four main barriers to connectivity: the connection to the Internet, the availability of devices, the costs, and the skills that are needed. We need to explore interventions or partnerships that can help break these barriers down.