Guyana’s economic transformation: Addressing the digital skills gap

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By Dr. Meredith Arnold McIntyre – OilNOW

The Guyanese economy continues to grow very rapidly, driven by the booming oil sector and supported by the government’s modernization plans. GDP continues to expand at an unprecedented rate following growth of 62.3 percent in 2022 (the highest in the world) economic growth is expected to be 38 percent in 2023. 

Oil production continues to expand rapidly with the coming onstream of a third oil field, while accelerated implementation of a public investment program is supporting strong growth in the non-oil sector. The program is targeted at critical development needs and is vital to strengthening economic capacity including transportation, housing, and flood management infrastructure, and raising human capital.

The latter objective of raising human capital is vital to achieving stronger long-term, sustainable growth. The presence of significant skills gaps that could hinder growth and economic transformation has been highlighted by policymakers. The other facet of the challenge is skills mismatches in the labor market where there are workers seeking employment but do not have the skills demanded in the labor market. This suggests a significant shortage of the required labor skills and recent estimates by public officials put the shortage at about 100,000 persons. Skilled labor shortages have been identified in technical skills – welders, machinists, heavy equipment operators and a range of technical skills needed in the oil industry. 

In addition, as the world becomes increasingly digital Guyana like many developing countries faces the challenge of increasing the supply of skilled workers with digital skills. There is a growing need to produce skilled workers with digital skills to support an expanding service sector and the diversification of the economy, reducing the dependence on the rapidly expanding oil sector.  The note looks at the core digital skills Guyana will need to support the process of economic transformation and diversification. 

To support the drive for increased digitalization Guyana must significantly expand internet access. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) estimated in 2021 that only 17 percent of the population had internet access. The low level of internet penetration is limiting access to online education and digital skills training. Increasing broadband access and internet penetration is an important component of the Government’s strategy to support the transformation process. 

It is well established that digitalization increases economic efficiency, reduces transaction costs, and increases competitiveness. The Government is preparing and implementing a variety of reforms to increase digitalization of the economy and to boost labor productivity e.g., single window processing of permits, digital ID and digital banking records. 

As Guyana pursues an economic transformation strategy what are the core digital skills needed to support digitization and economic transformation? The core digital skills needed to support the development of a modern economy with an efficient services sector are a combination of “hard” and “soft” skills. The “hard” skills include: (i) Online or internet-based research. This requires setting up methods of accumulating data and these include customer surveys, online interviews and metric data gathering. (ii) Social media management. This means establishing methods/processes to gather information from social media audiences and using the information to develop strategies for target audiences, for example, critical in marketing goods/services by companies or promotion of government programs to increase participation. (iii) Data and spreadsheet management. This enhances vital quantitative skills and includes managing databases and spreadsheet software to organize the data ensuring it is easily understood with a wide variety of audiences. (iv) Enhancing digital threat awareness or the risks of using digital devices. This is the area of cyber security that is of growing importance as digitization expands across the world. Cybersecurity training involves acquiring the tools to not only be aware of the digital threats but to protect the individual and the organization. For example, hacking, phishing, privacy violations, and cyberbullying.  (v) Desktop publishing. This is the range of core digital skills needed to ensure Guyana can supply the skilled workers needed to support economic transformation including the economic diversification needed long-term to reduce the dependence on the rapidly expanding oil sector. 

In the oil industry digital skills have an increasingly important role to play. A global survey of by Statista found that respondents identified data analytics (60 percent of the respondents) and cyber security (57 percent) as the two most critical digital skills for the oil and gas industry. Other key digital skills identified included engineering (38 percent), data science (37 percent), digital literacy (28 percent) and digital engineering (28 percent). Taken together these skills were seen as crucial to securing the future success of their companies. 

Guyana’s government has identified digital skills training as a priority in the program to close skills gaps. The government has clearly stated its intention to pursue a variety of digital literacy initiatives and the private sector can play a key role by investing in upgrading/developing digital skills in the workforce.  Importantly, underpinning these “hard skills” is knowledge of key software in word processing, spreadsheets, and databases.  For example, word processing (Microsoft Word, Google Docs), spreadsheets (Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, Apple numbers) and database software (Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle DBMS).   

Developing core digital skills while necessary is not sufficient to enhance the skills of the workers needed for the current economic transformation. The “hard skills” need to be complemented by training in and knowledge of “soft skills”. What are the soft skills? These include (i) Teamwork and collaboration. Working in teams and effective collaboration is increasingly a core part of modern organizations in the public and private sectors. (ii) Interpersonal skills and communication. This is needed in all forms of communication – oral, written, non-verbal, and importantly, listening, remains a vital skill for working effectively in a modern organization. (iii) Critical thinking. In the era of fake news, social media bubbles, and information overload skilled workers operating in the digital space will need the skill of critical thinking. (iv) Emotional intelligence is another soft skill modern organizations in the public and private sectors need to train workers. 

Finally, developing digital skills is going to require collaboration between the public and private sectors and cannot be seen exclusively as a function of the state. Businesses will need to invest resources in the digital training of their workforce and the government in designing and developing digital skills development programs will need close collaboration with the private sector to identify the sectors/industries where the digital skills shortages are acute. Typically, training staff via online courses with international certification is a common method for private companies. Private sector inputs in training programs are critical to aligning the programs with the needs of the economy as they evolve over time. 

About the Author

Dr. Meredith Arnold McIntyre has been an economist for over 30 years. He has worked in a variety of Caribbean regional institutions including the Caribbean Development Bank, Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, and the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery in the 1990s. Dr. McIntyre joined the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in February 2001 and worked on countries in Africa and the Caribbean including leading IMF country team missions to Guyana. Dr. McIntyre has published a book and a variety of articles on issues in macroeconomic and trade policy in small states. He is currently an Associate, Manchester Trade Ltd and a Fellow with the Caribbean Policy Consortium. 


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