Employees with digital skills sitting around a table discussing and examining data together.
Image: © Jade Maas/peopleimages.com/Stock.adobe.com

Data know-how is among the most important digital skills for Irish workers

17 Jan 2024

Skillnet and IDA Ireland research has drilled deep into the types of digital skills non-IT workers need. Top of the list is data competency.

Irish workers need more digital skills to keep pace with the evolving working world – and they need them fast. That was the main finding of a report published yesterday (16 January) by Skillnet Ireland and IDA Ireland that explored the tech competencies of the Irish workforce.

This study looked at the tech competencies of people working in what are traditionally non-IT roles across multiple industries. Of course, the concept of non-IT roles is fast becoming outdated; most – if not all – white-collar and a lot of blue-collar jobs require digital know-how. Workers who don’t have tech skills are in danger of being left behind by technological advances.

“Digitalisation and data skills no longer sit solely in the realm of the IT department or tech company, and the demand for data and digital skills within Ireland’s key industries is rapidly increasing as technology advances and more organisations seek to digitalise,” said Minister of State in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Dara Calleary, TD.

“As a result of this report, what we have is a good picture of the data and digital skills required for non-IT roles now and in the next three to five years, which helps us to determine the types of supports that are needed to successfully upskill and reskill our workforce so that we remain an attractive place to invest,” he said.

For the purposes of the survey that informed the report, the authors asked industry leaders from sectors such as pharma, medtech, engineering and IT to identify some of the core digital skills needed for traditionally non-IT roles. They listed data skills, digital problem solving, document design and presentation and digital communication and collaboration.

The data said data skills

Data skills were singled out as being vital for all employees to work on over the next few years. There is a skills gap evident in data analysis, and data literacy also needs to be improved across the board. Industry personnel were keen to emphasise that everyone, no matter their level of interaction with tech, will need to be able to “interpret, use and create meaning from data, and have the digital proficiency to work with technology and improve efficiency”. To a slightly lesser extent, robotics and automation knowledge was also identified as an area needing improvement.

It is important to note that different industries require different data skills. The report drilled down into the unique data-related competencies and the specific sectors where they are needed.

In general, medtech and pharma industries require workers to have data governance, lean methodologies and agile management knowledge, for example. Whereas engineering requires digital transformation and design thinking as well as lean methodologies.

For compliance and financial services workers, data security is important to ensure fraud is detected and prevented. HR workers need good data governance and validation skills.

The report said that Government and educators have to work together to ensure people are well-served with basic literacy and numeracy skills from the moment they enter the education system. This will help them as they begin learning data literacy and other digital skills later on.

The ability to confidently deal with data is not just a technical skill; it is a transferrable skill. Industry leaders agreed that life skills and tech skills must not be viewed in isolation by policymakers. People need to develop qualities such as resilience, an appetite for lifelong learning and a mindset to embrace and experiment with new tech.

Of course, the memo that society needs more digital skills is not new or unexpected. Experts have been warning about skills shortage for years, and a 2023 OECD report on Irish adults’ level of preparedness for the world of work yielded mixed results – especially when it came to automation tech.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea joined Silicon Republic in 2021 as Careers reporter, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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