Demand for digital skills has far outpaced demand for non-digital skills over the past decade, a new report from Randstad and the OECD shows. Meanwhile, demand for other roles — such as data clerks, typists, broadband technicians and advertising sales experts — is in decline. 

This potentially poses a problem for many businesses — too many staff trained in declining roles, not enough staff ready or available for roles required for the digital age.

To bridge this gap, there needs to be a mindshift on the part of multiple stakeholders, Randstad CEO Sander van 't Noordende says. “We think that everyone should be well placed to benefit from the digital revolution. But we cannot expect people to do this on their own. We need to help people collectively to adapt, reskill and embrace technology to find new opportunities and benefit from that technology. This will take a huge, coordinated effort led by policymakers and business, we all need to step it up.”

The expected net increase in jobs by 2025 because of the Fourth Industrial Revolution could exacerbate the potential skills shortage. Agile organizations have opportunities to guide employees away from declining roles and into thriving ones. 

Here’s how. 

keeping talent relevant in the marketplace

Preparing for a paradigm shift like the digital revolution in the labor market is a priority for employers and employees alike. Ensuring workers have the skills they need to transition into jobs that are likely to be in high demand in the digital economy requires big data, and a targeted training or retraining plan, the report says. 

Initiatives that upskill existing employees and offer new hires the chance to learn new skills for digital roles will contribute to staff retention, and help companies stay ahead of their competitors. 

The report highlights four key steps for maximizing upskilling potential:

1. identify declining and thriving roles in your organization

It can be a challenging prospect for businesses to assess which roles are becoming more or less relevant, but a data-led approach can help. There are publicly available data sets from bodies such as the US Bureau of Labor Statistics that can give insights into expected changes in demand for different job types. 

US bureau of labor statistics data
US bureau of labor statistics data
Big data can provide insights for upskilling strategies.

2. identify similarities between old and new roles 

By mapping out the skill sets required for different positions, companies can examine the extent of any overlap and then match up declining old roles with new roles that are — or will be — in higher demand.

For example, automation and digitalization are contributing to a drop in projected employment growth for advertising sales agents, but demand for marketing specialists is forecast to rise. There is a clear potential skills crossover here.

Analyzing skill demands in online job postings can help to identify upskilling opportunities that would require the least training. Equally, businesses can identify when too much training is likely required to transition someone from one role to another. 

occupation clusters illustration
occupation clusters illustration
Identifying the skills overlap in different roles can help to identify the easiest upskilling opportunities.  

3. offer employees a clear training plan

Once a business has identified declining and thriving roles, and mapped out any skills overlap, retraining can begin. The report recommends that businesses offer a transparent, data-led training plan. 

Retraining an advertising sales agent for a position as a marketing specialist would require a focus on boosting knowledge of web analytics and online marketing, the report says, suggesting that this should form the basis of a targeted retraining strategy.

skills distance from origin to destination overview
skills distance from origin to destination overview
Data-led training plans can help target which skills require the most attention.

When looking at roles that are growing in importance, it’s also worth considering whether new applicants to your organization could be trained to learn any essential skills they currently lack. Creating a recruitment process that can assess candidates for their potential as well as their existing abilities can be extremely beneficial, opening up new talent pools in a competitive hiring market.

4. support staff in their transition 

Changing professions, even within the same company, can be challenging. Randstad says people who are switching roles should be offered the same support as new joiners, such as an induction process, regular check-ins with line managers and introductions to new colleagues.

The digital revolution could displace many workers as the division of labor between humans and artificial intelligence evolves. But with an expected net increase in roles, companies do not need to make difficult decisions with existing staff — instead, there are significant upskilling opportunities for companies that can leverage big data and create an environment where staff can transition from one role to another with ease.

“This digital transition in the workplace could create over 100 million jobs by 2025, and this clearly exceeds the 85 million jobs that we can lose by displacing humans with technology,” van ’t Noordende concludes. “But remember, not only will we have more jobs, we will have higher-quality jobs, which is really important. At the same time we need to really take care to help people learn the skills required for this new world. People will be left behind and that's what we need to avoid at all costs. But I think with the right level of leadership of business and policymakers, we can make sure that the digital revolution is an equal one for all workers.”

digital skills insights

download the latest  report from randstad and the OECD exploring the most relevant labor market trends in digital technology.

download the report here