1. Overview of labour market and skill demand trends in digital occupations

The adoption of digital technologies is enhancing the way people learn, where, when and how they work, and spur their engagement in society. The overall impact of technology adoption on labour markets is expected to be positive but anxieties remain as to whether technology may increase some of the existing divides as individuals who lack adequate skills are likely to face barriers to remain engaged in labour markets that will increasingly require digital skills.

This report focuses on a wide selection of digital occupations such as computer and data analysts or administrators, software developers, programmers and engineers, ICT technicians and data entry clerks as well as ICT and HR managers and marketing specialists.1 The report also provides insights focusing on the adoption of digital technologies, tools, software programmes in jobs and labour markets more generally.2

The insights contained in this report are key for policy makers to understand the profound changes that the digital transition is bringing across labour markets and to anticipate further changes in an effective manner. These insights are also central to spur the debate on the design of effective reskilling and upskilling pathways for all workers to benefit from digitalisation. Evidence in the report presents the most recent trends in the demand for digital occupations, highlighting where labour market bottlenecks are emerging and policy action is (and will be) needed to support individuals who want to acquire digital skills to thrive in future labour markets and societies. The granularity of the information used in this report allows to identify the demand of employers in each country and to support the design of precise labour market and education policies respond to current and forthcoming challenges. This report also targets the general public, by providing insights on the direction taken by labour markets and on what workers may need to expect in terms of skill demands in the near future so that their education and training decisions can be informed by their knowledge of these recent trends.

The evidence presented in this report shows the significant increase in the number of job postings published online for a wide range of digital occupations while also showing the negative impact that the COVID-19 crisis has had across all labour markets and, as a consequence, on some digital professions.

Vacancies published online for data engineers and data scientists in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, for instance, experienced a striking growth in recent years with OJPs for data scientists increasing by more than 40 times in between 2012 and 2021.

Among digital occupations, software developers, programmers and engineers have also experienced some of the most notable rates of growth. In Canada, for instance, the number of job postings for User interface (UI), User experience (UX) designers or developers engineers (in charge of the design of user interfaces for machines and software, such as computers, home appliances) was, in 2021, more than three time larger than in 2012. Similarly, in the United Kingdom, the demand for UI / UX designers / developers reached its all-times peak in 2021, with almost 15 000 new job postings published online in one year.

In EU countries (with few exceptions), information on OJPs is only available starting in 2018. Results over this relatively shorter time span (if compared to non-EU countries where information is available starting in 2012 and with a higher granularity level) show that job vacancies in the EU countries have been heavily affected by the strong declines in economic activity experienced during the pandemic. Despite that, even during the pandemic, some digital occupations have experienced an increase in the volume of vacancies relative to the pre-pandemic period. For instance, in Italy and France, job postings for database and network professionals have increased steadily since the start of the available time series in 2018. In Italy, in particular, the number of OJPs for those professionals increased by nearly 9 times over the period considered while in other EU countries such as Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands or Spain the demand for database and network professionals reached its peak in 2019 but then declined as the COVID-19 crisis hit. Despite the drop during the COVID-19 crisis, demand for many digital occupations in the EU is still expected to increase in the medium to long-run as a result of further adoption of digital technologies.

Evidence in this report shows that digital jobs require a heterogeneous mix of technical and high-level cognitive skills to be performed. Results show, for instance, that database management and warehousing skills are required with several other data-related and data-analytics skills. An emerging trend in the skill demands of digital occupations is the increasing relevance of open source platforms and of software libraries such as Tensorflow (an open-source platform that allows to operate machine learning and artificial intelligence in a variety of different contexts). Similarly, the knowledge of programming languages is key in a variety of upward trending digital jobs. The knowledge of Java is, for instance, particularly relevant for software developers and programmers in Germany.

It is well known that digitalisation is intertwined with automation in that automation relies on the use of digital technologies to monitor processes and collect data to optimise production. Among other results, the evidence in this report shows that computer-aided engineering (CAE) software are key for electronics engineers and ICT operations technicians in several EU labour markets among which Belgium and Germany. Across jobs analysed in this report, technical expertise in using CAE is also commonly required along with the ability to use technical drawing software and joint with the knowledge of automation technologies and of the internet of things (IoT).

Interestingly, business and sales-related skills are key for a subset of software-related occupations such as web designers. Results for the United States, for instance, show that web developers are typically required to know about online advertising and online marketing. Web analytics are also very relevant for web designers in Singapore while the knowledge of copywriting is demanded in jobs for web designers in Canada.

The analysis of the keywords mentioned in job posting published online allows to ascertain how widespread digital skills and technology demands are becoming across a variety of different occupations and the pace by which their use is spreading across jobs. Metrics presented in this report analyse millions of job postings looking for trends in the demand for digital skills comparing them with the average dynamics of each labour market in order to determine whether the demand for digital skills has been growing faster than that of the average skill in each labour market.

Results show that advanced data analysis skills such as the knowledge of machine learning, data science and data visualisation are at the core of the development and adoption of a variety of different digital technologies that leverage the use of the available digital data. Evidence for the United States and Canada, for instance, shows that the speed by which advanced data analysis skill demands have diffused across occupations is in between 10 to 15 times faster than for the average skill in each of those labour markets respectively.

Results also show that the demand for programming skills, among which JavaScript or Python, has been spreading across occupations in the United States and the United Kingdom at a particularly rapid pace (in between 6 and 9 times faster than the diffusion of the demand for the average skill in online job postings). Technical expertise and knowledge of Ubuntu, an open source Linux-based operating system designed for computers, smartphones, and network servers is among the digital competencies whose demand have diffused faster across occupations in EU countries in between 2018 and the end of 2021, in particular in Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

Interestingly, the knowledge of automation and of IoT is becoming increasingly important in production processes. Results in this report seem to suggest that the demand for skills in those areas is still relatively concentrated in a narrower set of jobs if compared to other types of digital skill demands.

Evidence in this report also confirms that the uptake of social media has been fast in the period between 2012 and 2021. The demands for social media skills has diffused across occupations up to 14 times faster than the average in the United Kingdom and in the United States, suggesting that an increasing number of businesses are now hiring (or searching for) workers with skills in the area of social media management.

While technological change is among the drivers of the possible decline in employment in some occupations, digitalisation represents also an opportunity for many workers to develop new skills and transit to different career paths that are digital in nature and that are expected to thrive in future labour markets.

The information contained in online job postings is used, in this report, to identify the skill similarity between occupations and to determine what type of retraining would be needed to make a career transition from occupations whose employment projections are negative to others that are instead expected to grow in the future.

By leveraging the skill information contained in OJPs the report shows, for instance, that workers in “traditional” jobs such as advertising sales agents could retrain to become digital marketing specialists by acquiring training in the area of web analytics, online marketing, SEO Copywriting and related technical skills such as Semrush. Other examples of retraining pathways are provided in the report for Satellite/broadband technicians to move into Computer support specialists’ careers or from customer service managers to data engineers. These examples, and others that could be built using the information in OJPs, can inform the work of public employment services to support the design of short and targeted retraining and upskilling courses for workers in occupations at risk of automation.

Reference

[1] Randstad Research Italy (forthcoming), Connessioni al servizio della fruibilità. Le 100 e più professioni digitali del futuro.

Notes

← 1. Chapter 4 discusses the full list of digital occupations analysed in this report. Digital occupations have been selected based on the degree by which workers interact with digital tools, technologies or produce/use digital content. The final selection of digital occupations has also benefitted from input by experts in Randstad Research Italy and the companion study “Connessioni al servizio della fruibilità. Le 100 e più professioni digitali del futuro” (Randstad Research Italy, forthcoming[1]).

← 2. The text of job postings published online contains mentions of digital technologies, tools, software and skills. In this report, for ease of presentation, those keywords will be grouped under the label of “digital skills” unless the distinction between them is useful to present and highlight specific results.

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