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Over the past several years, innovations in information and communication technologies have fundamentally changed the nature of work.

This has created new opportunities in digital employment for workers and employers in South Asia and beyond.

So what are the pathways to this new employment?
During a recent Facebook live chat on digital jobs, we explored three themes related to the digital jobs of the future. First, we discussed where the digital jobs of the future are. Second, we discussed how South Asia is uniquely positioned to benefit from the growth of these jobs. And finally, we discussed how to get started in the digital economy by finding relevant training and learning opportunities.

Here’s an overview of our discussion in five points:

1. What are digital jobs?
Digital jobs fall into two categories: jobs within the IT or digital industries, and what are termed digital society jobs. Digital industry jobs include those such as computer programmer, mobile app developer, graphic designer and other jobs where information and communication technologies are the core tool to perform the job functions. However, technology is also changing what we call digital society jobs, where technology is maybe not core to the job functions, but makes more you more efficient and productive, and improves access to markets and networks.

2. What is driving the emergence of these new digital jobs?
The rapid rise in connectivity that is linking more and more people to the internet is changing employment. Today, many jobs can be performed through computers, with workers telecommuting from almost anywhere in the world. Many business processes are being broken down into task based work, and which can be farmed out to people with the skills to do them, anywhere the world. Some of these tasks need higher-level skills, and can pay well – especially compared with many developing countries’ wage levels. But there are also simpler tasks that many more people, even those with limited skills, can do. This mix creates the opportunity to include more people in the global digital economy, while also creating pathways towards better paying and higher quality work for those who perform well and pick up in-demand skills.

3. How does South Asia compete?
South Asian countries have large populations many of whom have yet to enter the growing global digital economy. Yet, South Asia has a unique competitive advantage and is well positioned to benefit from this new wave of digital jobs. Many countries in the region have a skilled and young workforce, especially in computer science and computer engineering. The legacy and history of the continent means there are still many English language speakers, which is still the lingua franca of the global business world. Finally, relatively low labour costs make these workers competitive in an increasingly globalized marketplace.

4. So what can government and policy-makers in South Asia do to promote digital employment opportunities?
The first and most important prerequisite for participating in the digital economy is infrastructure and access to the internet. The past decade has seen a rapid expansion of the internet across South Asia, but there are still several pockets that are not connected, and efforts to connect these areas will be critical for digital inclusion.

Second, a number of skills are needed to effectively participate in the global digital economy. These include language skills, since most work in being conducted in English, technical skills that are valued and globally relevant, and soft skills that equip young people with the communication and cultural norms of this global marketplace. For governments and policy-makers, effective policies and regulations can help to spur growth and build the relevant skill base needed to effectively position countries in this global digital economy to take full advantage of the future of work.

5. How do I get my digital career started?
For those who want to start a career today for the future of work, there are plenty of resources to get started. Many online work platforms and peer to peer global marketplaces are global, and participation is as simple as signing up and starting to work. For those looking to learn skills—both technical and soft skills—online learning platforms can teach people practical skills needed to begin earning in these global marketplaces, with many local versions popping up in South Asia now contextualized to the local learning context, or supported through governments. For digital entrepreneurs, online resources in business development and marketing through online learning platforms, short courses, webinars, and other free resources can go a long way to the success of startups.

The future of jobs is digital. And with relatively low barriers to entry, learning resources available, the time is now to take advantage of these new jobs.
(World Bank)