Digital competences and their importance on the labour market


Digital competences and their importance on the labour market

Digital and soft skills are called together the competences of the future. They can help in both professional and private life. How to develop them?

The digital transformation we are experiencing in terms of content and organisation requires specific digital competences from us. It is no longer sufficient to just use digital devices or applications that provide access to information. In the advanced spectrum of digital skills, there are higher-level skills, called competences of the future.

Competences of the future refers to human abilities – digital and soft – that determine how we cope with the changing reality

Today's functioning in the digital society and economy of the 21st century depends on appropriate digital competences. However, [...] the use of modern solutions must be based not only on knowledge of technology but also, and perhaps above all, on social, emotional and cognitive competences. The Revolution 4.0, of which we are part of, both as an institution such as NCBR, and as users – digital citizens, is heading towards digital humanism, writes Izabela Żmudka, deputy director of the National Centre for Research and Development.

Digital competences – what are they?

Digital competences refer to the creation of technology at various levels of its advancement and enable people to actively participate in the digital world. They allow people to acquire knowledge and use data on the Internet.

Thanks to them, it is possible to cooperate efficiently online, critically assess information and make decisions based on it – at work, in social or private life. The higher the level of basic digital skills in a society, the lower the risk of digital exclusion and the higher the potential for sustainable socio-economic growth.

Digital competences as the skills of the future

Competences of the future is a term encompassing human abilities – digital and soft – that determine how we cope with the changing reality: from its personal, through social, to professional dimension.

In practice, digital competences are measured by verifying what activities people can perform on digital devices, including computers, tablets, smartphones. Among the basic ones, such as searching for information about goods and services on the web, using e-mail and social media, using online banking or placing your own content online, there are advanced digital competences. Those are needed to create and shape digital technology, such as programming skills, knowledge of its languages, including understanding and writing algorithms, and analysing large data sets.

Basic & advanced digital skills 

Among digital competences, five types of abilities can be distinguished, which we listed from the most basic to the most advanced:

1. Information skills

  • copying and moving files between folders
  • saving documents on the digital devices
  • searching the web for information on goods and services

2. Communication skills

  • transferring files between devices
  • changing the software settings
  • purchases on auction portals
  • use of internet banking

3. Solving problems skills

  • transferring files between devices
  • changing the software settings
  • purchases on auction portals
  • use of internet banking

4. Software skills

  • ability to use programs, eg MS Office

5. Advanced digital competences

  • programming skills
  • understanding and writing algorithms
  • analysing big data

Change of competences requirements 

The competences of the future are identified and forecasted on the basis of the human-machine relationship as well as the place and role of man in the world of technology

Before, however, as a result of the advancing technological changes and revolution 4.0, this report became the subject of reflection, their threats were emphasised rather than opportunities. Scientists predicted the coming era of human displacement by machines on the labour market or the domination of artificial intelligence over human intellect.

Today, an essential thesis in these considerations is that “man should not compete with the machine, but should learn to communicate with it, to program it inclusively and with respect for fundamental ethical principles, and to develop his unique, purely human qualities and competences, in which the machine will never replace him. It is this set of competences – digital, social, emotional and cognitive – that what is referred to as the competences of the future” (from the report “Tomorrow's Competences”).

The soft competencies of the future 

Apart from strictly digital ones, there are three others, the so-called soft skills of the future: 

  • social – involving interactions between people; 
  • cognitive – concerning the way of thinking, processing and verifying information; 
  • psychological (emotional) – relating to the inner life of a person, such as understanding oneself, coping with emotions, etc.

Without them, it is impossible to effectively verify the information received while programming, understanding and writing algorithms and analysing large data sets. So in the future, they will turn out to be indispensable in practising almost all professions. Demand for related skills is already growing in the global labour market. 

1. Social competencies include: 

  • the ability to work in a group, especially with people with different views and value systems, the associated acceptance of diversity, identification of each person's strengths; 
  • communication skills, i.e. the ability to select convincing arguments and present them concisely and transparently. 

2. Cognitive competencies include: 

  • critical thinking skills, including the ability to verify information like the detection of false information (fake news), as well as skilful (allowing to find the answer) asking questions, primarily via internet search engines; 
  • the ability to actively learn, i.e. the will to independently acquire knowledge throughout life, and the constant pursuit of confronting different lines of argumentation.

3. Psychological (emotional) competencies include: 

  • the ability to self-organise, like time management and setting priorities, preserving mental hygiene and maintaining a balance between work and private life; 
  • flexibility, including the ability to change tasks performed and adapt to new conditions, as well as openness to change; 
  • mental stability, i.e. understanding one's own emotions and the resulting behaviours; the awareness that there is a living human on the other side of the web – skills so crucial in the digital world, where people are mainly on their own. 

The image of the competences in Poland 

Most rankings on the digital economy do not yet take into account the soft skills of the future. However, they can be analysed based on educational, psychological and sociological research. From the available data one can compile a picture of the competences of the future in Poland. It shows that in most areas, they are less educated than in Western European countries. In comparison, Poles belong to the nations with the lowest indicators of social competencies.

According to The Legatum Prosperity Index, Poland has one of the lowest levels of social capital (multiple relationships with people and institutions and openness to cooperation). In 2019, we achieved 47 points out of 100 possible, which is over eight less than the European average and as much as 30 less than Norway – the leader of the ranking. Low social capital translates into considerable problems with working in a group, especially with people who have different views. Moreover, Poles do not attach great importance to gaining knowledge on their own.

A positive feature of Poles, on the other hand, is that they trust their co-workers quite a lot – slightly more than their neighbours, but less than their friends (GUS 2020 data).

The research on the competences of the future in Poland emerges a discrepancy between the degree of digitisation of the economy and the digital competences. According to The Digital Economy and Society Index (EC index), in 2020, Poland ranks 22nd among the 27 countries of the European Union. 

The COVID-19 epidemic has become the basis for the formulation of the thesis about the first great economic crisis in the 21st century, while others argue that this event will become a catalyst for global innovation.

Digital competences in the age of a pandemic 

The outbreak of the pandemic has changed the perception of new technologies and digital competences. It also caused a revolution in the field of remote work, and methods of work performing. In a short time, employers were forced to use tools that they had previously treated as an addition.

In the first half of 2020, 94.8% most days a week of people worked from home, against just 5.9% before the pandemic and only 0.6% stationary. Both in Poland and the world, people confined in their homes can count mainly on digital technology. For most, not only work has moved to the virtual world, but also culture, education, entertainment, shopping and sports services.

Without the development of technology on such a scale, all these activities would not be possible, and the social and economic effects of the lockdown would become difficult to imagine. Some experts even claim that the pandemic shortened the digitisation processes, which would typically take much longer under normal conditions, to several months.


Regardless of the further course of the pandemic, the development of automation and artificial intelligence will revise the nature of work and its definition. Its future will be influenced by the ability to use technological devices and the pace of learning new tools. The role and value of employees with soft and digital competences – capable of critical and innovative thinking, with high skills in solving complex problems and collaborating in a group – will be increasingly strengthened.

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