“There is a major gap emerging between everyday digital skills
and those needed for work…” – Salesforce


If you’re asked to summarize your literacy proficiency, your answer will likely revolve around reading and writing skills. But, how would you describe your digital literacy? Do you begin with your computer usage? Do you mention software? Or maybe you list your favorite apps? This short list of questions begins to capture the difficulty in defining digital literacy.

In addition, you might ask:

  • What tools and technologies should be considered?
  • How do you measure proficiency in systems that are routinely upgrading?
  • Do technology skills such as coding fall under the digital literacy umbrella as well?

As a wide range of ever-evolving technologies are integrated into nearly every phase of our lives, achieving a level of digital literacy might seem elusive. However, pursuing this moving target is essential–because these skills are the key to building and expanding thriving local communities and global economies.

But there’s a problem

Three key industry leaders explain . . .

“There’s a gap between the frontier of innovation and the skills necessary to use those innovations. That is not new. But what is new, is the scope of that innovation, how widespread it is, how it has diffused in every aspect of life,” Peter Schwartz, Salesforce.[1]

“There is a myth about the Google generation kid who, because they are young, are seen as being more computer literate than their parents, but that is totally wrong,” Dan Russell, Google.[2]

“We often wrongly assume that young people have a complete set of digital skills because they grow up surrounded by digital technologies. The skills that they acquire by using social networks and retrieving online content are not sufficient in the labour market,” Kestutis Juskevicius, EU Digital Champion.[2]

Let’s start with a definition

According to the American Library Association, digital literacy is “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.”

To help provide context, Hiller Spires, a professor of literacy and technology at North Carolina State University, views digital literacy as having three buckets: 1) finding and consuming digital content; 2) creating digital content; and 3) communicating or sharing it.”[3]

Different Format, Different Skills

Exploring the bucket illustration, the work of finding and consuming digital data begins to illustrate the challenge in determining how to define and assess digital literacy skills. For example, while some web content is text only, other formats include a combination of hyperlinks, embedded videos, and interactive graphics. In addition to reading for content, the digital user must engage critical thinking and analytical skills to determine if these additional sources add value, and if so, how the new data will be assessed and shared.

Jill Castek, a Portland State University professor with the Literacy, Language, and Technology Research Group, offers one suggestion for defining digital literacy, “The concept should instead be considered plural–digital literacies—because the term implies multiple opportunities to leverage digital texts, tools, and multimodal representations for design, creation, play, and problem solving.”[3]

Digital Literacy and the Workplace

A complicating factor surrounding our understanding of digital literacy is the gap between the online skills needed for personal use and the skills required in the workplace.

Citing a recent Salesforce report, “Nearly three-quarters of respondents (73%) don’t feel equipped to learn the digital skills needed by businesses now and even more (76%) don’t feel equipped for the future. There is a major gap emerging between everyday digital skills and those needed for work, especially among younger workers.”[4]

Harvard Business Review writer Sophia Matveeva agrees, “Ninety percent of business leaders cite data literacy as key to company success, but only 25% of workers feel confident in their data skills.”[5]

The economic implications are massive. Salesforce projects that 14 of the G20 countries could miss out on $11.5 trillion in cumulative GDP growth as a result of the digital skills gap.[6]

The future looks … bright?

Opening a conversation about digital literacy is a good place to begin. Define what digital literacy means to your business. Start with an organizational view, then work through the needs of each position. With each step, make clarity your goal and assume nothing. Training and equipping staff are top priorities. Be sure to set a schedule and celebrate milestones.

“Making the best use of digital technologies is what propels organizations into the future.
To lead successfully in the digital age, leaders must go beyond their usual training
and learn to become digital collaborators.” – Sophia Matveeva



[1] Why Digital Skills Are the Foundation of Our Future Workforce, Salesforce

[2] Great Internet Age Divide Is A Myth, Andrew Denhom, The Herald

[3] What is Digital Literacy? Education Week

[4] New Digital Skills Index from Salesforce Reveals 76% of Global Workers Say They Are Unequipped for the Future of Work, Salesforce

[5] Coding Isn’t A Necessary Leadership Skill – But Digital Literacy Is, Harvard Business Review

[6] The Digital Skills Gap Comes at a Cost, Salesforce



Digital Blindspot, How Digital Literacy Can Create a More Resilient American Workforce

Why Digital Literacy is Vital in Modern Workforces

What is digital literacy and why does it matter?

Learning the Landscape of Digital Literacy