Digital skills get a jump start

The pandemic is intensifying demand for key digital skills

digital training
  • Digital training programs are surging in areas such as machine learning, cybersecurity, and data science
  • The massive shift to remote work is spurring demand for IT expertise in the enterprise
  • Recent hiring trends align with the most in-demand digital skills

The pandemic may have drastically slowed the global economy, but it’s only accelerating the drive to expand workers’ digital skills. Online learning platforms such as Coursera, Udacity, and EdX, for example, saw major spikes in course enrollment in March and April, much of it driven by workers at the direction of their employers.

At Coursera, course enrollment nearly tripled, according to chief enterprise officer Leah Belsky. “Within our enterprise audience—people who have already provided courses to their employees—we’re seeing 80% to 90% increases in engagement on the platform,” she says.

Before the pandemic, large companies including AT&T, Shell, Target, and PwC had launched major initiatives to upskill and reskill their employees. Their aim has been to boost workers’ digital literacy for a competitive advantage. But just as Covid-19 has dramatically changed how we work, it has also moved up the timetable for closing digital skills gaps.

Which are the hottest digital skills in the Covid era? Coursera has seen enrollment surges for certification courses in cybersecurity. Courses that teach coding languages such as Java, HTML, Sass Stylesheet, and Ajax are also popular. So is training in machine learning, artificial neural networks, and logistic regression.

Hiring trends are another indicator. In recent weeks, job openings have spiked for security specialists, network and system administrators, web and mobile designers, and game developers, says Mike Paylor, engineering and product VP at tech hiring platform Upwork, which publishes quarterly rankings of top job skills.

Based on these trends and other Upwork research, Paylor sees the biggest demand for digital skills in four key areas:

  • Data science. Data science skills are becoming must-haves in the enterprise; Covid-19 is merely accelerating the trend. Two months ago, Coursera launched a Data Science Academy that helps workers qualify for a variety of data science roles. Then came Covid: “We’ve had major companies thinking about doing it who suddenly said, ‘we need to put the pedal on the metal and go now,’” says Belsky.
  • IT administration. The sudden, massive shift to working from home has boosted internet traffic by 50% to 70%, according to KPMG. Preventing outages amid soaring global usage will require workers with proficiency in information security, network and system administration, and IT management.
  • Open source tech. The appeal of open source tech lies in its transparency, a source of trust amid rising concerns about data security and privacy. “Developers with open source skills, such as .NET Core and Kubernetes, are going to be highly sought after in a post-pandemic world because of the information sharing it enables,” says Paylor.
  • Enterprise cloud. Even before the pandemic, 86% of IT leaders said they faced a shortage of cloud talent, according to a recent Logicworks survey. Skills focused on major cloud platforms will continue to rise in demand.

Of course, digital skills only tell part of the story. Many courses in big demand, says Belsky, are focused on soft skills such as managing well-being, mastering remote work, and building leadership acumen.

“People who are running large programs that were formerly focused on tech skills are shifting to include these as well,” she says. “They’re realizing that they need to engage their learners as whole people and teach them how to manage and lead and adapt during this time.”