Improving digital skills in the workplace.


There are persistent misunderstandings when it comes to digital skills in companies. In conversations with business leaders, I find time and again that they systematically overestimate digital skills in their company. 

Limited digital skills are almost always seen as a problem of the others. More specifically, it is seen as a problem of low-skilled or elderly employees. But in the eyes of managers and business leaders, their own employees are usually very well versed in digital skills. 

But all experience and research clearly shows that this is certainly not the case. 

From research by Ilse Mariën (imec-SMIT-VUB) and Périne Brotcorne (UCLouvain, CIRTES) we know that only a minority of Belgians (38%) have advanced digital skills. This is certainly not only about the elderly or the low-skilled, but applies to all layers of the population. * An important element in this is the rapidly changing nature of technology. The world around has already changed so radically in our lives, especially in the digital field. Applications are continuously adapted and expanded. It changes so quickly that even people in the field often struggle to keep up. 

For those majority of us who have average or low digital skills, it's even harder to keep up. They often lack the overarching technical insights that make it possible to apply previous knowledge to new applications. 

These lower digital skills have a direct impact on employee efficiency. We often see employees carrying out processes that are cumbersome or even manually, which can be solved very easily digitally, or can even be completely automated. Retyping data from one program to another, colleagues who are constantly emailing different versions of the same file to each other and searching for the differences between the two texts, or what about that CEO who has all emails printed and answers dictate to the secretary? 

Digital literacy and media literacy are also factors that should not be underestimated when it comes to the vulnerability of your organization to cybercrime. The stronger your employees are in these matters, the greater the chance that your organization will escape cyberattacks. In targeted phishing attacks intended to test the vulnerability of companies, 17.8% of recipients clicked a link in a phishing email in 2021. When 'vhishing' (phishing via telephone) was added, this percentage increased to 53.2%.** 

Overall, we see that human error was at least a major contributing factor in 95% of all successful attacks.*** 


How can we strengthen digital skills? 

Everything starts with moving away from the assumption that everyone will keep up by themselves. That is unfortunately not how it works. Active efforts should be made to maintain existing digital skills and to learn new elements. There are quite a few ways to work on this. Some better than others. 

Despite all the good intentions, I see a few mistakes repeated over and over. 

Usually, attention is only paid to the so-called 'hard skills'. By this I mean the purely technical actions that are required to work with a device or application. While it is very useful to pay attention to 'button knowledge', it is only part of the story. 

It is equally important to pay attention to the soft skills. Things like media literacy, teamwork, problem-solving, … are just as important to ensure that your team remains flexible enough to deal with all of the changes. 

Another common mistake is that training is usually only organized on those matters that are directly related to work. While there are great opportunities if you also provide training on matters that strengthen them in the private sphere. By focusing on strengthening broader digital skills, you strengthen your employees more deeply and promote their general digital self-reliance. This in turn has positive ripple effects such as increased well-being, reduced vulnerability to disinformation and cybercrime, increased learning motivation, etc…. 


Jef De Backker 

Coördinator Digidak  
(e-inclusiewerking van BLENDERS vzw) 


*source: barometer digitale inclusie 2020 
**source: IBM security X-Force threat intelligence index 2022 
***source: ‘Why human error is #1 cyber security threat to businesses in 2021.