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

COVID upended the job market & focused employers on skills

COVID had few silver linings. But perhaps one of them is that it upended the labor market in ways that, for once, favored workers over employers. The switch to virtual meant that recruiters were forced to urgently find people with the right digital skills instead of waiting for those that had gone to the "right" schools. "The talent market became a little dry," Jonathan Rochelle, VP of Product Management, Learning Content & Instructor Experience at Linkedin, says during a Global Stage livestream discussion.

UN Environment Chief: “The truth is we are failing”

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations' Environment Programme, issued a dire warning about climate change in a new interview with GZERO Media. In 2021, UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the world as standing “at the edge of an abyss,” and that next steps on climate were urgent and critical. “I think if you ask people on Pacific islands whose lands have been lost, they've already fallen off,” Andersen told GZERO. “Or even if you ask people in California whose houses got burnt in a wildfire, they have fallen off.”

Ian Bremmer: Russia is a rogue state

Does Vladimir Putin have any real friends left? In a Global Stage livestream conversation, Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer says that the Russian president is losing China and India, who are telling him they're worried about the war in Ukraine dragging on. Not even the Kazakhs (!) are on his side anymore.

Future-proofing the internet from radicalization & extremist content

How do we respond to crises and keep people safe when the internet is abused by terrorists and violent extremists? How do we think about prevention? How do we future-proof Christchurch Call to Action (a political summit initiated by New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern) as the internet changes into a more immersive environment? Paul Ash, PM Ardern’s Special Representative on Cyber and Digital, discussed with GZERO Media in an interview at the United Nations.

Finland “investing in security and stability” with NATO push

Kai Sauer, Finland’s Undersecretary of State for Foreign Security Policy, told GZERO Media that as Finland awaits NATO membership his nation is already contributing to the alliance. “We are a security provider. We are investing in stability and security in our region,” Sauer said. “We are bringing a lot of capabilities to the alliance. So, it's in everybody's interest, also in Turkey's interest, that Finland and Sweden will become members.”

Why is Russia on the UN Security Council?

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has launched a discussion about how the UN Security Council works, and how it is dysfunctional - especially when Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, is the invading country, said Melissa Fleming, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications. In an interview with GZERO Media on the sidelines of the 77th General Assembly, Fleming reflected on the return to in-person diplomacy after years of disruption caused by pandemic. "There is this real feeling that the UN is the only place for global cooperation,” she said. “We cannot solve the world's intractable problems of climate change, of war, of refugees without multilateralism, and multilateralism is the UN. It is nations working together to solve problems.”

Digital Equity