Digital and soft skills - Microsoft on skills needed for an inclusive economy

As today is the start of Microsoft’s Digital Skills Week (14th-18th September 2020) I joined a short digital event this morning (with speakers also from Catch 22 and LinkedIn) on skills for an inclusive economy. It was interesting to hear the latest research and trends on the digital and soft skills required for the future workforce. Here’s a summary of the key points (which may also be interesting to those conducting PESTLE analyses)

Digital transformation

Digital Skills Week is focused on the re-skilling needed to meet the needs of the tech-enabled economy. Particular issues explored during the week – aimed at senior management – are:

  1. Creating an inclusive economic recovery
  2. Cybersecurity skills
  3. Impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

There was also mention of the need for cultural and strategic change to increase the skills capabilities of the current and future workforce.

Impact of Covid-19

The speakers indicated that there were currently 3.4 million people unemployed. This was likely to increase when the furlough scheme for 5.5 million people ends in October. There are some groups who are particularly at risk of unemployment.

Young people – particularly those with few qualifications at entry level and/or in low income jobs – are particularly at risk. (The youth unemployment issue was highlighted in the BBC News the next day).

Older people are also at risk. Where people lose their jobs after 50 there is little chance of re-employment so it is essential that they are re-skilled while still employed. Older workers need to learn how to translate their experience and sell themselves in a new context.

In cities such as London, Manchester and Birmingham as many as a third to a fifth of individuals are at risk of unemployment.

There are also sector differences in employment opportunities. For example:

  • There are now more jobs in construction and healthcare
  • Sectors such as the professions (e.g. lawyers) and media are much the same as before Covid
  • Travel and entertainment jobs are down by as much as 30%. Other sectors that have been badly affected include hospitality, retail and the arts as well as the gig economy.

The speakers estimated that the Covid situation had prompted two to 10 years of digital transformation within two months. We are now in a hybrid economy.

Estimates suggest that there will be three million new tech jobs over the next five years.

Digital skills required

The speakers quoted research that suggests 30.5 million people have no digital skills.

They observed that with more virtual working most jobs now require a high level of digital skills.

They also commented that young people will have difficulty obtaining basic office skills as work experience opportunities are now so limited.

There was a discussion about the Digital Apprenticeship scheme. There were comments that this Government support for training is currently underutilised by employers. Trials this year had been effective at reaching BAME and female groups to develop employability skills and create aspiration-based career plans.

Soft skills required

The speakers said that attitudes towards learning and development needed to change. They argued that employers must take responsibility for upskilling the future workforce.

They indicated that both hard (digital) and soft skills development programmes were required. I was surprised to hear them describe soft skills as core skills too.

Amongst the soft skills most needed were:

(There is significant research about the demand for soft skills in my recent book “Essential soft skills for lawyers”)

Surge in on-line learning

They mentioned a surge in the uptake of online learning. The vast online training resources during Covid-19 had reduced the perceived cost barriers to entry.

And they stressed the need for affordable and flexible training that can fit around family commitments as working parents were particularly at risk. They mentioned the gender equality gap here indicating that 33% of working mums were having to reduce their hours. Flexible hours and job sharing were needed to help.

As the Covid situation has reduced employers’ ability to hire new skills in, the imperative will be for employers to train and re-skill their existing employees.

The speakers indicated that 75% of learning and development professionals said that training was now more on the CEO’s agenda. And 44% of CEOs now think it’s their responsibility to ensure the future employability of their work force.

The speakers said that there was a need for the development of  a learning culture in businesses – where people can learn from resources and also their colleagues, where training can be implemented in their work right away and where they can see the connection between training and reward and career progress.

There was now a demand for people to curate learning resources. I liked the idea of something like Spotify being created to help people navigate the vast training methods and resources available now on-line.


It was good to see major technology companies providing free advice and training for employers and employees – particularly the disadvantaged groups. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in action.

Microsoft Digital Skills Week Twitter account @MSFTBusinessUK