Digital skills? Skills in the digital age!

Digital transformation Digital skills? Skills in the digital age!

Published on 15.09.2020, Dr. Sarah Genner

We need employees with digital skills! But what do we actually mean when we talk about digital skills? Are digital skills enough? Or are creative individuals with social skills and values actually who we need in the midst of digital transformation?

Will the digital transformation of the world of work change everything? What does this mean for recruitment and training of employees? First and foremost, do we need more people with digital skills? Or – quite the contrary – particularly personalities with expertise, integrity, and social skills?

Employees have different strengths, talents and personalities. And industries and job profiles require very different competencies. It would therefore make little sense to lump them all together – or to use a single framework. Often it is very different skills and opposing character strengths that complement each other and make a team or company successful.

In order to weigh up the competences and character strengths demanded in the 21st century, I analyzed and then aggregated almost 100 competences and skills for a federal report from a total of 26 existing models and lists (report in PDF format).

Most mentioned skills from 26 frameworks (Genner, 2019)

Digital transformation enables remote work and thus places higher demands on self-control. It is therefore fitting that self-competencies are among the most frequently mentioned competencies. Social competencies including the highly important communication skills are the next major cluster of skills, which also include listening, empathy, dealing with diversity, cultural awareness and digital skills. Analytical and critical thinking are closely linked and along with creativity are prerequisites for the often demanded problem-solving capacity.

Across all models and frameworks used, three skills appear in most of them: communication, problem solving skills, critical thinking.

The current debate about the future of the world of work, however, is dominated by digital transformation. So the question of digital skills is particularly relevant. Many models capture this separately, sometimes with specific sub-aspects of the vague concept of “digital skills.” I created an overview model that views digital skills as cross-sectional skills.

Skills and values for the digital age (Genner, 2019)

Why fundamental values? Most previous models integrate basic values or character strengths in a fragmented way only. In my model, the fundamental values form the basis for competencies. If they are not anchored in values, competencies do not necessarily have a positive effect on society as a whole and within organizations. The “basic values” in the model are based on the discipline of “positive psychology”. Humor, hope, integrity and lifestyle are key elements of the model. Skills such as prioritizing, ambiguity tolerance and lifelong learning skills have been and are still important in times of rapid change. The volume of information and data and the large number of new sources made possible by digitisation require filtering competencies.

What a framework cannot depict is the importance of finding a balance between opposites, e.g. between general education and specialization, analysis and intuition, private and professional life, between listening and speaking, between self-esteem and respect for others. Each strength can be a weakness (and vice versa), depending on the context or situation. There is also a risk that a framework might be used to strive for a kind of equalization rather than recognizing the advantages of different teams. It is also a crucial leadership skill to combine different personalities and their skills as appropriately as possible. It is a truism that lifelong learning is beneficial in times of rapid change. Those who are willing to learn and to change fulfil the imperative of the hour, i.e. that of agility.


Unfortunately, Connecta will not be taking place as planned. Dr. Sarah Genner would have been one of the 80 speakers. An alternative programme is being offered with Connecta TV, Doc and Talk – find out more at:

Dr. Sarah Genner

Dr. Sarah Genner is a digital expert and lecturer. Her research focuses on societal and psychological effects of digital transformation. Her book, ON/OFF, won the Mercator prize from the University of Zurich. She teaches at various universities and is a board member. With her company, GENNER.CC, she builds bridges between academic disciplines and practice.

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