Digital skills gap and how best to make sure you don't fall behind

Tips for minding the digital skills gap

The times they are a-changin‘, so how do you build and sharpen the skills that you need to avoid being left behind by the digital revolution?

The times they are a-changin‘, so how do you build and sharpen the skills that you need to avoid being left behind by the digital revolution?

With digital transformation moving apace, hardly any aspect of our lives is spared the dramatic effects of lightning-fast technological advances. The workplace is no exception, as the ubiquity of developing digital technologies is changing the way we work and the skills that we need at work. And it is changing them big time, even upending them, as some tasks have been simplified or automated and some jobs rendered obsolete – and all the while new job roles and careers are being created.

However, life in the throes of a digital revolution requires digital skills, and those can be in short supply. In Europe, for example, an estimated 14% of the labor force have no digital skills at all, and around 40% of the workforce are estimated to have insufficient digital skills, despite the increasing need for such competencies in all jobs. With the demand for digitally-competent workers outstripping supply, numerous jobs remain unfilled. Now, you’re unlikely to be digitally-naïve if you’re reading this piece, but that should not be seen as detracting from the size of the problem.

In information and communications technology, including computer security, the need for talent is just as (de)pressing, if not even more. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Far from it. The challenges of bridging the skills gap and filling the vacancies are opportunities to be seized. Opportunities for those who are ready to dig deeper.

So, how can you acquire or enhance the skills that you need, to avoid being left behind by the digital revolution? As the second week of European Cyber Security Month (ECSM) is focused on the “Expand your Digital Skills and Education” theme, this is the question it makes sense to ask, and attempt to answer. As Mick Jagger famously sang: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes, you might find you get what you need.”

Get started

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes, you might find you get what you need”

After you’ve determined and established a balance between your wants, likes and needs, you can identify your goal and the path to achieving it. Even though having a goal in mind is commendable, it only gets you so far, so stopping here is not an option. You need to embrace the journey and commit yourself to actually taking the first steps towards accomplishing your goal. This involves setting aside time for learning or practice – indeed a feat unto itself in our fast-paced world. Trivial as it may sound, getting started is often anything but simple.

Be a (perpetual) student

There’s probably no need to go back to school and spend sleepless nights cramming for exams, although by no means do we discourage you if that’s your thing. The internet can be your oyster. It offers countless non-formal learning opportunities that come in various shapes and sizes, with online courses or webinars just two of the many options worth your while investigating.

We’ve previously highlighted a selection of free courses on topics related to cybersecurity. There’s an endless number of free or low-priced courses on any imaginable topic pertaining to any aspect of human activity, with many of them taught by lecturers from the world’s top colleges and universities. Coursera, Udacity, EdX, Udemy, Lynda and MIT’s OpenCourseWare are just a few of a great many places to look at in order to give yourself a solid grounding in any field. Some courses come with a certificate, although those may not be free.

Read, read, read

“I cannot remember the books I have read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

There’s nothing like reading. In addition to the wisdom it can provide, it is also an easy way to stay on top of the latest goings-on in your field of choice. Considering the rapidity with which technology develops, keeping track of all sorts of online publications is a particularly good idea.

Keep up with industry news, be it via news websites and other sources such as email alerts, Google News, news feeds on social media, RSS feeds, newsletters, etc. Don’t just read about the next big thing (or fad) in tech, however. History, too, offers many interesting lessons to be learned. Did you know that France was hit by a “cyberattack” 200 years ago?

And then there are books, of course. On top of all the pleasure that can be derived from immersing oneself in a good book, there’s usually just as much knowledge and meaning that can be gleaned from a good text on technology. “Everything’s already been said,” after all, as some might argue, and chances are that a book on a relevant topic may at least point you in the right direction.

Participate

You can also join online user communities, where you can learn from – or share ideas with – like-minded people. Volunteering or taking an unpaid internship can also help you obtain some experience and establish contacts. By devoting your time to learning new skills (or possibly to a more noble cause), you also show your dedication to kicking your career development up a notch.

Attend industry events such as trade shows, conferences, workshops and seminars, which sometimes provide much better value than freebie resources. As the wheat is separated from the chaff, the talks are likely to give you a good idea of what’s hot (and not). They can also provide answers to your questions that might otherwise remain a mystery. Which brings us to the last point:

Be inquisitive

Curiosity may sometimes kill the cat, but a lack of curiosity doesn’t often get you the answers you need. Or, as some might say:  curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.

No matter where your learning efforts may take you in the digital realm, remember never to lose sight of the security side of things.

You may also be interested in the first of our articles to mark European Cyber Security Month: Make it a cyber-habit: Five simple steps to staying safe online.

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