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Work & Society 2040

Focus on digital skills in innovative technologies

Published on 27 Aug 2021

Insights into digital skills and their incidence. What LinkedIn career network data reveals about the changes in skill supply.

by Kristin Keveloh (LinkedIn) and Michael Maier (Policy Lab Digital, Work & Society)

New digital technologies contribute to an increasingly data-based economy, a growing number of digital business models, and the innovative use of AI applications. They offer opportunities while at the same time posing challenges for work and society. In particular, the use of new digital technologies triggers a transformation in required skills of employees. On the one hand, this change in skill bundles may arise from automation of tasks in certain parts of the labour market. In this case, workers expand their skills or develop new ones for tasks that cannot be performed by machines. On the other hand, the use of new technologies may also call for entirely new skills. How important are digital skills already on the labour market? And how quickly do new types of digital skills diffuse? A collaboration between LinkedIn’s Economic Graph and the Policy Lab Digital, Work & Society investigates these questions.

The data from the LinkedIn network – one of the largest digital career networks – tracks skills in great detail. In contrast to data on skills collected via expert or employee surveys, this information is collected continuously, meaning that up-to-date data can be retrieved at any given point in time. This makes it possible to identify the latest trends in workers’ qualifications.

The LinkedIn career platform connects employees and employers, offering them a forum for sharing information, searching for jobs, and for engaging in further training and networking. All LinkedIn members can specify their skills in their profile. The member profiles are supplemented by job advertisements published by companies on the platform. There are currently about 750 million LinkedIn members and information on 14 million job vacancies worldwide.

By defining a taxonomy for skills, it is possible to analyse skills specified by the members on an anonymised basis. This taxonomy currently contains roughly 35,000 skills and, using algorithms, is continuously being updated through the addition of members’ new skills. The skills specified by members represent their own assessments but can be endorsed by their personal network.

The LinkedIn data does not cover all the various sectors of the German employment market to the same extent. Some sectors and regions are represented with more weight than others. Data are mainly available for the sectors “industry”, “professional, scientific and technical services”, and “information and communications”. In contrast to official statistics, participation in the LinkedIn network and the disclosure of information are voluntary.

Digital skills can be divided into two categories: applied and expert skills (see fig. 1). Applied digital skills are those that are required, e. g., for using existing software or participating in online platforms. They also include quite general skills such as the ability to use Microsoft Office applications. Expert digital skills, on the other hand, require more detailed knowledge. They comprise skills such as the ability to modify existing software to accommodate complex individual business requirements or the development of new software. One particular category are expert digital skills, which are required for using innovative disruptive technologies such as AI, cloud computing, and blockchain.

  • Source: LinkedIn. The image describes different skill categories at Linkedin.

    • General skill categories
      • soft skills
      • digital skills
        • applied digital skills
        • expert digital skills
          • specific expert digital skills for disruptive technologies
      • business skills
      • industry-specific skill

    Further information on the LinkedIn skills clusters can also be found in: World Bank Group, LinkedIn (2018), Data Insights: Jobs, Skills and Migration Trends Methodology and Validation Results, Appendix F.

Over the last few years, digital skills played an increasingly important role, which is reflected in the skills that LinkedIn members add to their profiles. It should be noted, though, that LinkedIn members are presumably more digitally savvy than the average employee.

LinkedIn members added digital skills to their profiles more frequently than any other skill types (e.g. soft skills or business skills) between 2015 and 2020 (see fig. 2). This trend is particularly pronounced with digital skills for disruptive technologies. Accordingly, digital skills for the application and development of completely new technologies, such as AI, augmented and virtual reality, or robotics, are added more frequently. However, the increase in digital skills slowed slightly in 2020. This comes as a surprise given the coronavirus crisis and, resulting from this, the greater incidence of digital work, e.g. mobile working. Despite a temporary small decline, the share of applied digital skills has generally remained stable.

  • The image shows a line chart displaying the development of digital skills added by LinkedIn users in Germany. Time is displayed along the x-axis and the development measured in relative changes is represented along the y-axis. Based on a normalised value of 100 per cent in 2015 the relative change for digital theoretical skills for disruptive technologies in 2020 is at over 150 per cent. The relative change for digital skills and expert digital skills is approximately 110 per cent and that for applied digital skills is roughly 100 per cent.

    © Source: LinkedIn.

Despite their increased incidence, digital skills form only a part of the currently most important skills mentioned in LinkedIn members’ profiles. The skills most frequently added in the last three years include, but are not limited to digital skills (table 1). What stands out is that in 2020, i.e. during the coronavirus pandemic, fewer digital skills figured among the most frequently added skills compared to previous years. In 2020 only five out of the 20 most frequently added skills were digital skills, compared with 11 out of 20 in 2019 and as many as 15 out of 20 in 2018.

However, a certain momentum was already evident in the development of skills in 2018 and 2019: for one thing, different digital skills are repeatedly among the most frequently added skills from year to year. For another, some skills are consistently in the top 20 in all three years. For example, agile methodology skills exhibited a relatively sharp increase in all three years.

Table 1: Most frequently added skills by LinkedIn members per year

1JiraCommunicationAnalytical Skills
2CommunicationAnalytical SkillsAccounting
3Agile MethodologiesProcess OptimizationAgile Project Management
5GitDigital MarketingProject Coordination
7ProgrammingBusiness-to-Business (B2B)Consultation
8Machine LearningDesign ThinkingSales Management
9Intercultural CommunicationGraphic DesignInformation Technology
10RMachine LearningTraining
11Design ThinkingSearch Engine Optimization (SEO)Engineering
12Digital MarketingCoachingSales & Marketing
13SQLWordpressLogistics Management
14Web DevelopmentRecruitingAutomation
15LinuxCustomer Relationship ManagementTechnical Support
16Data AnalysisIntercultural CommunicationDigital Transformation
17AutomotiveScrum (Software Paket)Advertising
18Windows Software Development ToolsAgile Methodologies (Softwareentwicklung)Account Management
19CoachingProduct ManagementCustomer Service
20Software DevelopmentPhotographyData Science
Source: LinkedIn. Overview of most frequently added skills by members, compared to the previous year. Digital skills defined by LinkedIn are highlighted. Further information on the LinkedIn skills clusters can also be found in: World Bank Group, LinkedIn (2018), Data Insights: Jobs, Skills and Migration Trends Methodology and Validation Results, Appendix F. Generic skills such as Microsoft Word or foreign language abilities are excluded from the analysis.

Table 2: International comparison of digital skills incidence

Source: LinkedIn. This diagram is based on the “skills genome” index developed by LinkedIn, which tracks the top 50 skills that are “both unique for and representative” of a given job title and then calculates the proportion of skills classified by LinkedIn as digital skills. The penetration of digital skills in a country is defined as the average proportion accounted for by digital skills in the skills genomes for all job titles in that country. To achieve an international comparison, the relative penetration of digital skills is defined as the ratio between the penetration of digital skills in a given country and the average penetration of digital skills in all countries. Further information can be found in the methodological notes of the OECD.AI Policy Observatory (OECD.AI) (https://oecd.ai/methodology).


The progressive change in competencies in Germany can also be observed in an international comparison (Figure 3). This can be measured by the relative penetration of digital competencies, i.e., how often digital competencies are added by LinkedIn members compared to other competencies. Germany has risen from eighth to fourth place in the ranking since 2016.