AWS Public Sector Blog

4 global skills trends shaping workforce development

This is a guest post by Kevin Mills, head of government partnerships at Coursera.

In June 2022, Amazon Web Services (AWS) Partner Coursera launched the annual Global Skills Report, an in-depth look at the state of skills globally. The Global Skills Report draws data from 100 million learners in more than 100 countries who have used Coursera, a global online learning platform, to develop a new skill during the past year—with the goal of providing actionable insights to businesses, governments, and campuses looking to understand the skill needs of their organization.

Our analysis reveals that investments made by the public sector in skills development, like government initiatives and higher education programs, have the potential to drive competitiveness, innovation, and equity. Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution to workforce and economic development, high-skilled countries see a variety of positive outcomes.

Building on the findings from the Global Skills Report, the following are four skills trends that workforce development leaders, like those in state and local government and education, should keep in mind as they strive to build an inclusive and competitive workforce.

1. Digital skills are the shared language of the modern economy

A recent survey of nearly 40,000 United Kingdom employers found that 75 percent of jobs required mid- to high-level digital skills like data analysis, digital marketing, and machine and manufacturing technology. Furthermore, over 60 percent of jobs in sub-Saharan Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, and Canada were either digital occupations themselves or required at least a basic level of digital skills. Meanwhile, three-quarters of workers in a recent global survey conducted by Salesforce said that they felt unprepared for jobs in the digital-first economy.

Looking at the Global Skills Report, we see that learners in all countries are investing in digital skills or those that enhance them, although they are not all investing in learning the same set of skills. The most popular skills in the last year, measured by total enrollments of learners on the Coursera platform in related courses within the technology and data science domains, are those most closely aligned with common definitions of digital skills: statistical programming, machine learning, computer programming, and theoretical computer science.

Public sector investment in digital skills represents a unique opportunity to reskill people into better careers for roles that employers need now. Not every worker needs to learn how to code, but most modern workers should be literate in a range of digital skills. AWS-authored courses on Coursera provide an example of the digital reskilling and upskilling programs available to learners.

2. Countries in the developing world had the highest rate of learner growth

 While learners grew in every region of the world, Asia-Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa had the highest rate of growth. On the ground, we are seeing leaders in these regions using online learning platforms to provide their citizens with the kinds of skills that their growing economies need.

Figure 1. The highest percent change in Coursera learner enrollment growth between Q4 2020 and Q4 2021 can be seen in the regions of Asia-Pacific (APAC), Middle East/North Africa (MENA), and sub-Saharan Africa.

Figure 1. The highest percent change in Coursera learner enrollment growth between Q4 2020 and Q4 2021 can be seen in the regions of Asia-Pacific (APAC), Middle East/North Africa (MENA), and sub-Saharan Africa.

For instance, Ingressive for Good (I4G) is an African tech nonprofit that aims to train more than one million youths and connect 5,000 people with jobs. The organization needed a way to quickly provide thousands of learners with convenient, accessible training in high-demand tech skills. Coursera collaborated with Ingressive for Good to offer scholarships to 5,000 unemployed or displaced workers. I4G and Coursera curated courses from the Coursera catalog to align training with tech industry trends and skills demanded by employers locally.

More than 20,000 people applied for the scholarship program, and 5,000 young people from several African nations were admitted to the program to build tech skills through Coursera, completing more than 24,000 courses in total.

3. Lower levels of internet access correlate with lower levels of skills proficiency

In some countries, a lack of connectivity and access to the internet may also be curtailing potential gains from online learning.

While the internet may be the great equalizer, we know that internet access is not equal. Perhaps not entirely surprisingly, the report shows that countries with the lowest learner performance on the platform also had average internet access rates of 54 percent, while countries with the highest 25 percent of skill proficiency on the platform had average internet access rates of nearly 84 percent.

As part of the World Economic Forum’s determinants of social mobility, access to technology and the support of inclusive institutions are key to driving quality education and high-paying, stable jobs. Workforce development leaders should continue to look to collaborations with businesses and higher education institutions to create accessible skills development programs. This is especially the case in the developing world. As Makhtar Diop, managing director at International Finance Corporation, noted in a World Economic Forum article, “The people who are most likely to benefit from [online learning] are also the least likely to have access to it.”

4. Women are increasingly gaining skills online

Across the globe, 44 percent of the people enrolled in Coursera courses are now women, up from 35 percent in 2019. The United States in particular has seen above-average levels of women’s enrollment, including in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills.

Figure 2.  Enrollment among women learners on the Coursera platform has increased worldwide between 2019 and 2022, with the United States seeing an increase that is higher than the global average.

Figure 2. Enrollment among women learners on the Coursera platform has increased worldwide between 2019 and 2022, with the United States seeing an increase that is higher than the global average.

These findings on growing access to digital training among women are especially relevant given the recent report published by the International Finance Corporation in partnership with Coursera and the European Commission, which surveyed 10,000 women and men who learn online in Egypt, India, Mexico, and Nigeria. The report found that one in five women who reported career benefits from online learning also reported a rise in income after taking online courses, nearly 40 percent of whom reported an increase of 10 percent or more.

Get started with workforce development in the public sector

To meet the growing employer demand for digital skills and to provide better job opportunities for the communities they serve, public sector organizations should continue to invest in digital skills training. We are already seeing how learners across the world—including women and those in developing nations—are enrolling in online courses to prepare themselves for job opportunities, and we are seeing how internet access is a key element in unlocking economic opportunity. For a deeper understanding of these trends, download the Global Skills Report 2022.

 So how can you start developing workforce development programs? Follow these steps to implement cloud-skilling programs to jumpstart digital transformation. You can also get insights and examples about strategic workforce development plans in action from public sector leaders and workforce development experts in the on-demand webinar Rethink how to hire and retain top performing talent.

Find more resources for workforce development—including a guide for how to develop a digital-ready workforce—at the Workforce Development hub on AWS. Learn more about digital training from AWS experts at the Training and Certification hub.

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Kevin Mills

Kevin Mills

Kevin Mills helps enable the leading governments around the world to up-skill and re-skill their workforces. At Coursera, Kevin has led the teams responsible for building strategic partnerships with the world’s most innovative universities, companies, and governments to help further Coursera’s mission to provide quality education and training to everyone, everywhere. Previously Kevin has held roles in government, university administration, and at international law firms focusing on education law and policy. He holds a BA from Pepperdine University, and JD/MBA from Stanford University.