Digital literacy: Let’s not get left behind

Publish Date

06 FEB 2022


Kai Beckmann


Digitalization is transforming not only our lives, but also the world of work. Digital literacy training and continuing education are therefore more important than ever.

At Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, we have realized the need to take action and are working to offer our (future) employees the best options for building digital literacy. However, we also need support from policy makers.

How competent is Germany when it comes to digitalization?

Entitled “Daring More Progress”, the coalition agreement between the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP) is giving hope that Germany will see improvements in many areas, including digitalization. The word “digital” appears a total of 226 times in the coalition agreement, which is definitely an encouraging sign. The new German government plans to devote attention to digitalization, going so far as to finally implement concrete measures to address both infrastructure and digital literacy. In terms of the latter, the coalition agreement states that the new government will “look into establishing a federal center for digital literacy” and take steps such as promoting the expansion of innovative teaching techniques, training, digital infrastructure, and cyber security at universities through the federal “Digitale Hochschule (Digital University)” program.

What matters most here is that they move quickly. After all, in my role as CEO of the Electronics business sector of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, as well as President of the German Employers’ Federation of the Chemical Industry (BAVC), I have been calling for significant advances in digital literacy for years. Although the new German federal government will be taking several crucial steps to promote eSkills, I believe more needs to be done. We must work diligently to ensure that segments of our society are not left behind by the digital transformation. According to a study conducted by D21, a network dedicated to promoting a digital society, we face the threat of a digital skills gap, especially among older members of society as well as less educated individuals. Just consider how health services or day-to-day activities such as contactless payment at the checkout and social discourse are increasingly transitioning to the digital world.

An increasingly digital world of work

eSkills are not only a prerequisite for participating in social life but are also playing an ever-larger role in the world of work. This trend has been noted in a variety of studies, including one conducted last year by the BAVC whose findings were detailed in their Future Skills Report. They made use of big data and artificial intelligence in their analysis to pinpoint the skills that will be increasingly expected of chemical industry employees. 10% of jobs in the industry have already become more digital than they previously were just a few years ago.

This shift aligns with the fact that, according to the World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs Report, 84% of employers are set to rapidly digitalize their working processes. 94% of business leaders even report that they expect their workforce to pick up new skills on the job, particularly digital ones. But we cannot and should not expect people to be able to teach themselves everything the labor market will demand of them. We must bolster education in general and vocational training in particular.

We must take action

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany has mainly been offering digital literacy workshops in school classrooms or as school vacation activities. We have also been partnering with the Hamburg Hacker School to provide pupils with programming workshops.

Second, we must also cultivate digital skills as part of vocational training, which includes modernizing job academies along with universities and other institutions of higher learning. These facilities must be equipped for the digital age so that apprentices and students can prepare themselves for future requirements.

In addition to educating and training new talent, it is also essential to provide employees with continuing education opportunities, which brings me to my third point: Companies must also continue to invest in the digital literacy of their workforce. Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany is therefore also bolstering its in-house vocational training and continuing education offerings. In July 2021, for instance, we announced plans to invest € 70 million in a new vocational and advanced training center at our global headquarters in Darmstadt. The new Learning Center will house training facilities for all vocational training occupations in one building. More than 50 employees will not only train new skilled workers, technicians, and specialists, but will also develop a wide array of continuing education offerings to prepare our workforce for the changing world of work. The center is scheduled to open in 2024.

With Germany’s new government, we now have the opportunity to decisively advance digital literacy in our country. But we must move now; it will take more than mere declarations of intent, which means that policymakers and industry must work hand-in-hand. At Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, we are ready and willing to do our part. 

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