UTDSINewsBusinesses insufficiently aware of 21st-century digital skills

Businesses insufficiently aware of 21st-century digital skills

This is the claim made by Dr. Mirjam Koehorst following the doctoral research that she successfully defended last Friday. Workplaces that require strong 21st-century skills, such as communications, critical thinking and creativity, often devote too little attention to the digital aspect of these skills.

21st-century digital skills combine cognitive skills such as communication, collaboration and critical thinking with a digital component. “Someone who is good with computers is not necessarily good at digital communications,” says Koehorst, “and although lots of managers say they consider digital skills important, these are still all too often regarded as just another 21st-century skill.” Only when businesses are aware that digital skills have to be integrated into 21st-century skills, can these skills be further developed.

Points for improvement

Koehorst thinks that organizations can support the development of 21st-century digital skills by taking account of certain aspects. For instance, the selective composition of teams within a company can improve the development of the skills needed to work together digitally. “Organizations are well-advised to create varied teams. Employees in teams that bring together different disciplines often demonstrate improved digital collaboration and creative skills,” says Koehorst.

A transformational management style has a positive influence on the digital problem-solving capacity of employees. In this form of leadership, managers stimulate employees to be creative and innovative; this is done through coaching and by being a role model.

Koehorst also considers it important that adequate digital resources are available. Many of the participants in her research did not want to skimp on ICT investments: “Participants said that skimping on ICT costs can cause serious frustrations that ultimately cost time, energy and money,” says Koehorst. Nevertheless, it is also important that the organization has a positive attitude towards actually using ICT, and stimulates its employees to do so.


To find out what businesses could do to foster the development of 21st-century digital skills amongst their employees, Koehorst held a variety of surveys and interviews with professionals in the creative industry. The surveys enabled her to identify which organizational factors influenced the 21st-century digital skills of employees. By then interviewing company managers she identified the mechanisms underlying these factors, and ways in which organizations could support the development of the 21st-century digital skills of their employees.

More information

Mirjam Koehorst was a doctoral student within the Communication Science (CS) research group. Her supervisors were Professor A.J.A.M. van Deursen and Professor J.A.G.M. van Dijk of the Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences (BMS) faculty, and Professor Jos de Haan of the Sociaal Cultureel Planbureau (the Netherlands Institute for Social Research). Koehorst defended her thesis, Modernizing Creative Work: How organizations in the creative industries can support knowledge workers to develop the skills they need, on 11 December 2020. A digital copy of the thesis can be downloaded here.

K.W. Wesselink MSc (Kees)
Science Communication Officer (available Mon-Fri)