What you need to survive in a digital world

Technological advancements have accelerated our development as a species. This has never been more true with innovations evolving so fast in the first two decades of the third millennia that technologies can become obsolete within a handful of years. Think of the minidisk, the mini computer or even the flip phone.

Now with the dramatic shift to online working, socialising, and content creation and consumption, we find ourselves racing to catch up with the technologies that we have developed.

It is now expected that every professional be fluent in a whole suite of online tools, and that we all be able to find the self-discipline and home set-up to productively work from home.

Not only this, but with the inevitable shift of almost everything (within reason) to the online world, there is an increased, urgent need, for 21st Century digital skills.

Now it is not only professional graphic designers and film producers that need to be able to use design software, but millions of high-level managers and professionals find themselves grappling with learning the basics of Photoshop and InDesign.

As Kevin Roose of the New York Times eloquently puts it, “the virus is forcing us to use the Internet as it was always meant to be used — to connect with one another, share information and resources, and come up with collective solutions to urgent problems”.

The ability to do this, for both pleasure and profit, now needs to be democratised, and needs to be part and parcel of any young person’s education, no matter their background or their career choice.

The World Economic Forum has highlighted this, in a piece titled ‘8 digital skills we must teach our children’. They propagate the idea that in addition to the traditional IQ, and the somewhat forward-thinking EQ (Emotional intelligence), there is also DQ (Digital Intelligence), and that it is now essential to be inculcating the tools and practices of DQ in our youth from the earliest possible age. Without this, young people will be left behind in all spaces that they need to inhabit for a healthy, productive life, such as professional spaces, social spaces.

Vital skills

The eight digital skills mentioned are digital identity, digital use, digital safety, digital security, digital emotional intelligence, digital communication, digital literacy and digital rights.

These skills are vital to be able to thrive in the new world. They allow for young people to access the basic services and opportunities that are available to them in digital spaces.

Not being able to master basic digital tools such as computers, smartphones, inbuilt software and conference facilities can be a hindrance to productivity in the workplace for professionals of all ages.

Now, with the growth in popularity of -- and the corresponding growth in the need for -- skills such as coding, design, and digital content production, those who lack these skills stand a strong chance of being left behind.

One way to overcome this discrimination is to democratise these skills. If all young entrants into the workforce have basic mastery of these skills that are now so coveted across the board, we can return to a job market where candidates are assessed on their technical skills for the job at hand.

A candidate for a position as a project manager may be turned away because they use outdated, analogue methods; a journalist may be turned down because they refuse to drop the pad and pen in favour of electronic forms of shorthand.

But shouldn’t these individuals be assessed on how good they are at managing the multiple components of projects, and keeping teams on track? On their ability to hunt for a good story and draw revolutionary lessons for the world to marvel at, instead of how good or bad their ‘DQ’ is.

Must have

This is not to diminish the importance of DQ. it should instead be so taken for granted that it is not something that differentiates one person from another but rather unites them with a common denominator.

Neither should the promotion of the idea of all young people having basic digital media skills as replacing the role of professional graphic designers and video editors. With the exponential growth in the need for high-quality media content across the globe, and for all sectors, from fashion to food, and from teaching to tax collecting, there is more demand for high level digital skills than there is supply.

Having these skills at the tip of their fingertips will also make the workforce of the future more resilient. 

No one expected the global pandemic. But now that we know what can happen at the drop of a hat, we can make sure that the youth that are readying themselves to enter into the job market have all the skills and resilience necessary to brave it on their own and to be adaptable, self-sufficient, and to hold on to a livelihood if their job or industry disappears at the drop of a hat.

Too late for some?

For some of us it may be too late, we resign ourselves to not being able to teach an old dog new tricks, and stick to our traditional ways. However, we should not do a disservice to the young people that will follow in our footsteps.

They will be more resilient, more future-proof, more digitally intelligent, and hold the key to further technological evolution and development. So let’s leave them more than footsteps, let’s give them the skills they need to forge their own paths.

-Claire Baker is the Head of the Africa Digital Media Foundation