Friday, August 7, 2009

Where is all the hype about ICT skills and employability coming from? | or setting up the context

All the hype is coming from a trend researchers labeled "skilled-biased technological change". This trend, they argue, is being fueled by the increased diffusion of ICT across economic sectors combined with changes at the organizational level. This techno organizational changes are increasing the complexity of jobs, and thus, placing new demands in workers skills. Under this framework, low-skilled workers are in danger of been "crowded-out" of the labor market or trapped in dead end and low wage jobs since they do not have the skills required to perform under this new workplace environment*.

The penetration of ICT in a variety of economic activities is not only cutting across sectors, but also, across different types of jobs. Once, those basic ICT skills commonly assumed to be an entry ticket for getting a job in IT-intensive industries today they are becoming increasingly important for traditional sectors such as agriculture, construction, micro-entrepreneurship, to name a few. This trend is not only visible across sectors, but also across business hierarchies and different types of job positions. In many countries, particularly developed but increasingly in developing ones, ICT-related occupations represent twenty to thirty percent of the total national employment share with ICT specialists accounting for three to four percent, and jobs requiring basic ICT skills accounting for the rest**.

In addition to ICT, there are different skills required for the labor market today. Communication skills, team work, collaboration, critical thinking, decision-making, social skills, are among the skills most often mentioned by employers. However, in this basket of skills ICT skills play a unique role and it is worth discussing. ICT skills are not only valuable as a skills on their own right - you know the basics of how to operate a computer, some software, and perhaps some office applications - but also as catalyst to improve or further develop the other skills mentioned above.

Are ICT skills more important than the other skills? It really depends on the job requirements, depends on how basic are the computer skills of the individual, and depends on who do you compete with when looking for a job. So, ICT skills are one among many skills that is clear! Are basic ICT skills relevant for employability? Absolutely but we can't isolate the contribution of these skills from other confounding factors that determine the ability of a person to find a job. Previous job experience, portability of your skill-set, demands for your skill-set in the labor market, the availability of affordable training to improve your skill-set, personal context, all play a role. But it is futile to try to paint a fully comprehensive picture of what helped an individual to find a job. Too many variables and very difficult to generalize.

A more val
uable intellectual exercise is to eat the pie piece by piece with the caveats that this approach may generate. So we start with the first piece of pie: ICT skills training and employment. Employment (binary, you are employed or unemployed) is not the same as Employability (a process)

* See for further elaboration: de Grip & Zwick (2005) "The employability of low-skilled workers in the knowledge economy"
** See OECD Information Technology Report (2006)

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