scroll to top arrow or icon

Digital inclusion: Activating skills for the next billion jobs

Digital inclusion: Activating skills for the next billion jobs

Download PDF

The COVID-19 crisis has put millions of people out of work and exacerbated economic inequality around the world. It has also squeezed years of digital transformation of the economy into just a few months — opening up new possibilities and challenges. Many workers will likely spend the next year or two in a "hybrid economy," with work continuing at least partially remotely. That means it will be more important for people to have the tech skills to succeed in a totally new workplace.

Connecting the more than 3 billion people who today lack reliable internet access to the communications tools and essential services they need to participate in the modern economy is an essential first step. Broadband is the electricity of the 21st century. Without universal access to broadband, the economic recovery from COVID-19 will be neither comprehensive nor inclusive. The pandemic underscores the risks of a digital divide — increasing the reliance of households, small businesses, and entire economies on internet access, while leaving those without it further and further behind.


In addition to eliminating or transforming current jobs, the pandemic may also generate many new ones. If industries maximize digital transformation, the 2020 lockdown could generate by 2025 as many as 150 million new tech jobs in software development, cyber security, data analysis, and other fields. To take advantage of this opportunity, governments, the private sector, and international organizations will need to invest in teaching workers new skills and reverse a two-decade decline in training on the job.

In order to make sure that the post-pandemic economic recovery is inclusive, we need to ensure that all people — especially those unreached or displaced by technology — have access to the skills needed for jobs and livelihoods as well as the connectivity to enable the development of the skills needed in this more digital economy.

What's the UN doing about it?

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) - the UN's specialized agency for information and communication technologies - is tackling digital inclusion through its Connect 2030 Agenda. The Agenda is working across five goals:

  • Growth - enabling and fostering access to the digital economy,
  • Inclusiveness - bridging the digital divide and providing broadband access for all,
  • Sustainability - managing emerging risks, challenges, and opportunities as society digitizes,
  • Innovation - driving technological improvement, and
  • Partnerships - broadening the coalitions working to expand access to digital opportunities.

The UN and ITU play a key role in collecting data — more than 100 indicators across 200 economies — to help better understand connectivity challenges and to benchmark progress toward closing the digital gap and expanding opportunities, including for women, youth, and minority communities.

On the ground, the UN also works extensively with governments and businesses to expand digital access and training in developing countries — from Colombia and Kenya to Thailand and beyond. But the UN can't do this alone, particularly when so much important data and insights are being generated by private tech platforms — from videoconferencing to networking to content creation — that underpin the 21st century economy.

How are others trying to help?

Industry, civil society, and government have to help prepare people with the skills they need for a 21st century economy. A key bottleneck is access, especially in rural or low-income areas. Technology firms including Microsoft have launched programs to connect people with fast, safe, and reliable internet, and to ensure that once they get online they can take advantage of educational resources to build up skills. Microsoft's Airband program to expand internet access in rural communities is operating in 20 countries, 25 US states, and serving 16 million people through programs and partnerships. And it in turn is helping to support Microsoft's commitment to help 25 million people worldwide acquire the digital skills needed in a post-pandemic economy.

What's needed next?

Everyone has a role to play, from government to industry to nonprofits. Employers can play a bigger role than they have in recent years to help employees develop these new skills. Governments can provide funding for citizens to access the relevant skills training or provide incentives to employers to do so. They can also make some of their data sets available for public use to enable job seekers and employers to identify in-demand skills and growth areas.

How can I get involved?

More from Global Stage

Why the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals are not on track to be financed soon

Why the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals are not on track to be financed soon

The world faces a sustainable development crisis, and while most countries have strategies in place, they don’t have the cash to back them up. How far off track are we with the financing needed to support the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, ranging from quality education and health care to climate action and clean water?

Are markets becoming immune to disruptive geopolitics?

Are markets becoming immune to disruptive geopolitics?

There’s no escaping the intricate link between economics and geopolitics. Today, that link has become a crucial factor in investment decision-making, and who better to speak to that than Margaret Franklin, CEO of CFA Institute, a global organization of investment professionals? Franklin sat down with GZERO’s Tony Maciulis at a Global Stage event for the IMF-World Bank spring meetings this week.

AI at the tipping point: danger to information, promise for creativity

AI at the tipping point: danger to information, promise for creativity

Artificial intelligence is on everyone's mind these days. The potential for AI to mess up democracy is scary, but the truth is that it can also make the world a better place. So, are bots good or bad for us? We asked a few experts to weigh in during the Global Stage livestream conversation "Risks and Rewards of AI," hosted by GZERO in partnership with Microsoft at this year's World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

How to protect elections in the age of AI

How to protect elections in the age of AI

GZERO Media, on the ground at the 2024 Munich Security Conference, held a Global Stage discussion on Feb. 17 entitled “Protecting Elections in the Age of AI.” We spoke with Brad Smith, vice chair and president of Microsoft; Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media; Fiona Hill, senior fellow for the Center on the United States and Europe at Brookings; Eva Maydell, an EU parliamentarian and a lead negotiator of the EU Chips Act and Artificial Intelligence Act; Kersti Kaljulaid, the former president of Estonia; with European correspondent Maria Tadeo moderating. These thought leaders and experts discussed the implications of the rapid rise of AI amid this historic election year.

Why Africa's power partnership with the World Bank should attract investors

Why Africa's power partnership with the World Bank should attract investors

At the World Bank Group’s Spring Meetings this week, GZERO’s Tony Maciulis spoke to Lucy Heintz, Head of Energy Infrastructure at Actis Energy Fund, a global investment company focused on sustainability. Heintz expressed optimism in the announcement and explained the reasons why it could be attractive to investors.

How to tackle global challenges: The IMF & World Bank blueprint

How to tackle global challenges: The IMF & World Bank blueprint

The International Monetary Fund and World Bank’s Spring Meetings in Washington have told a tale of two economies: In the developed world, inflation is falling, and recession looks unlikely. But many of the world’s poorest countries are struggling under tremendous debt burdens inflated by rising interest rates that threaten to undo decades of development progress. That means these key lenders of last resort have their work cut out for them. But according to GZERO Senior Writer Matthew Kendrick, there's a proven model.

Digital Equity