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News announcement21 March 2024Joint Research Centre5 min read

Understanding workers’ participation in digital skills training

A new Science for policy brief sheds light on the characteristics of workers who feel they lack digital skills, as well as the factors that affect EU workers' participation in digital skills training.

Women worker wearing safety suit working with machine in spacious workshop of modern plant using digital screen
Female workers and those in digitally intensive sectors are more likely to participate in digital skills training
© Quality Stock Arts - 2024

The EU has identified digital skills as a key requirement for EU workers, with many workers currently not having the right skills they need for their job. A new analysis carried out by the JRC based on data from the European Skills and Jobs Survey (ESJS2) 

looks into common digital skills ‘mismatches’, the different profiles of workers they affect, and what their impacts are. The need for action is clear. This policy brief shows that more than half of EU+ workers report themselves to be digitally under-skilled, meaning that they believe they lack the digital skills they need for their current job.

Analysing the ESJS2, which was carried out by the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP), also helps better understand the challenges for workers and employers in accessing digital skills training. For example, it makes the important distinction that in many cases, these skills mismatches do not mean that workers have no or low digital skills, but rather that they lack the right skills for their job. Understanding this phenomenon can help develop policies to better target training, better inform workers of how to identify their own training needs, and address issues like the gender pay gap by ensuring that all workers have access to the digital skills training that they need.

These findings coincide with the publication of the European Commission action plan on Labour and skills shortages in the EU, which also identifies digital skills as a key focus area, and an important cornerstone in delivering the twin green and digital transition of Europe’s economy.

Digitally under-skilled workers are not ‘unskilled’ workers 

The findings show unexpected characteristics of digitally under-skilled workers. The profile of workers who more often report being digitally under-skilled are likely to be younger, male, living in urban areas and highly educated, in skilled occupations, more experienced, working in larger organisations, and on higher salaries. This underscores the fact that digital under-skill is not the same as low digital skill: many digitally under-skilled workers have high digital skills in general but have jobs with high or rapidly changing digital job-skill requirements and so do not feel they have the right digital skills for those tasks.

Factors driving training participation 

Participation in digital skills training is affected by many factors with important policy implications. Female and older workers, workers feeling that they under skilled for their job, and those with lower formal education are more likely to participate in digital skills training. Workers in highly skilled occupations, particularly digitally intensive ones, are also more likely to participate in digital skills training. Despite these differing profiles, the common theme is a self-awareness for workers who recognise a need to boost their digital skills for one reason or another. The analysis found that individuals' job-skill requirements were the strongest drivers of participation in digital skills training.

However, the analysis also shows that organisations have a key role to support digital skills, since participation in digital skills training was higher among workers in organisations where training needs are systematically reviewed. Workers' fears about new developments like automation  and new digital technologies also influence participation in training. These concerns can motivate workers to undertake training in order to keep up with or get ahead of these technological developments to safeguard their jobs.

Participation in training for digital skills is more likely for workers who have the following characteristics:  

Individual characteristics

  • Reporting being digital under-skilled for their job, under-educated for their job
  • Female, older
  • With lower formal education, who attended general education (vs. vocational)

Job characteristics

  • Employed in skills occupations, in more digital-intensive sector, in larger organisations, new entrants, working less hours per week, paid higher salaries, employed in public sector
  • Working in a job environment with a more systematic approach to training, including skills needs awareness raising

Individual perceptions and experience of technological change

  • feel job insecure (fear losing job in next 12 months)
  • fear automation (feel the need to upskill/reskill and fear task replacement due to new digital technologies
  • have a positive attitude towards technology
  • experience technological change with task replacement

Policy and research implications 

These findings pave the way for informed policy decisions to bridge digital skills divides and foster inclusive skill development initiatives. Policymakers, employers, and those implementing digital skills education and training can consider developing workplace practices that encourage participation in training that take individuals' job-skills requirements into account.

Interventions can be targeted towards digitally under-skilled workers who experience a digital skills mismatch but are not participating in any digital skills training; and workers with a higher chance of reallocation due to new digital technologies.

As digitalisation reshapes the modern workforce, understanding the dynamics of digital skills training participation becomes increasingly important. The data not only informs current policy but also outlines a path for future research and interventions. For example, the analysis suggests a need for more research on motivation and incentives for training, quality of training and its impact, as well as more comprehensive measures of digital skills mismatch. More research on these themes will help target and provide digital skills education and training.   


The European Year of Skills was launched in May 2023 and runs until May 2024. It provides a new momentum to reach the EU 2030 target for a more social Europe by ensuring that at least 60% of adults are in training every year, and with a particular focus on the Digital Decade skills targets:  

  • 80% of the adult population having at least basic digital skills by 2030;
  • reaching 20 million employed information and communications technology (ICT) specialists in the EU; and
  • promoting access of women to the ICT sector to close the persistent gender gap.  

The European Commission’s Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027 identifies the development of digital skills and competences as a strategic priority for the EU.

Related content

Recent research papers and JRC reports on skills



Publication date
21 March 2024
Joint Research Centre
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