Measuring the economic impact of digital skills in Greece: challenges ahead

Information Communication Technology or ICT refers to the technological means, software and hardware equipment, as well as skills that are used to achieve technologically complex ends. ICT has long been considered an enabler of improvements in economic productivity and growth. Automation, robotics, system management optimize the productive process, while data analytics and machine learning generate and use information that improve production mechanisms without the intervention of humans. Small technological hubs around the world generate technological development that, if used effectively, multiply production and growth. Despite, however, the tremendous technological renaissance going on in places such as Silicon Valley in the US, the Pearl River Delta in China, Seoul in South Korea and Tokyo, people are falling behind. The new frontier in productivity and growth enhancement is not technology, but rather ICT skills. Countries around the world are experiencing a severe dearth in ICT skills, the new set of abilities needed to manipulate the machines of our age.

An ICT skilled person has the ability to use extensively computers, mobile phones, tablets and other digital devices. Use involves document, spreadsheet and presentation manipulation, email, application use, while more advanced ICT skills include computer programming and data analysis. These skills have the potential to improve business productivity tremendously. ICT skills are important in the workplace as they enable expeditious writing of reports and letters, allow shared, non-corrigible bookkeeping and file sorting and most importantly, capacitate the communication between staff, suppliers and clients. ICT skilled personnel using ICT equipment makes office tasks simple so that they focus their productivity on actual work instead of the menial labor in between.

Besides making office work non-arduous, ICT skills may create disruptive leaps in the productivity of a workplace. ICT skills harness technology that can store, analyze and transmit large sums of data for not only eradicating small office inefficiencies, but also to open entirely new faucets of productivity enhancement. Coding of sorting and data entry programs removes the need for simple tasks such as sorting and merging spreadsheets. Spellcheck programs reduce the time needed to edit documents and presentations. E-Calendars not only notify employees about their deadlines and meetings, but also creates the habit of efficiently stratifying one’s time in manageable chunks of work. Data analysis enables the recognition of patterns in large sums of data, and machine learning creates algorithms that train from a given set of instructions, and perform tasks from logistics to coordination and management of business operation. The exploitation of these technological marvels requires an ICT adept workforce.

ICT skills are such a significant enabler of economic productivity and growth improvement because they unlock the potential for a network economy. Providing real time communication between all parts of a production chain, transmitting information of success, failure, urgency or halt of activities means that all people and systems in a production chain are informed of each other’s actions and can coordinate their own activities without uncertainty about others. Coordination means that productive capacity and effort can be switched according to the latest updates in the system. This development enables the optimization of all pertinent operations. In a network economy the signaling function of consumers is transmitted rapidly across the network and received by producers that analyze and transfer the information at an incredible speed, accelerating response to consumer patterns and facilitating impeccable leaps in growth.

Businesses around the world have realized the tremendous impact ICT may have on their productivity. In the last few years, firms have increased their investment on training new hires and retraining their more senior members to bring their workforce up to date with the accelerating digital transformation. Governments are also observing the benefits of an ICT skilled labor force in economic productivity and growth enhancement. Policymakers are creating training programs to improve the digital skills of all segments of the population. Skill matching initiatives pair young graduates with firms to enhance their ICT skills in a real work environment, and train more senior members of the work force to update their desynchronized skills and reintegrate them in the economy. The digital transformation of the economy is a collective effort that requires both businesses, governments and the labor force to introduce initiatives, innovate and lead.

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