Migrant workers and digital skills

Anna Triponel

October 23, 2023
Our key takeaway: A high level of digital skills and literacy provides social and economic benefits to people, especially vulnerable groups like migrant workers. For instance, digital skills are required to access online healthcare, immigration and banking services. Digital skills are also increasingly required by employers as we move towards a digital economy, where many jobs previously carried out by people can now be done by automation and new technologies. Despite this, migrant workers do not share equal access to digital technology and its benefits. Existing vulnerabilities, such as social exclusion, poor working conditions and wages, and lack of skills development opportunities, means that they cannot access and use digital technology in a safe way. This further compounds their vulnerability and excludes their participation in society. Companies must create an enabling environment where migrant workers can access available digital skills and literacy programmes by, for instance, not penalising their attendance by reducing wages, and incorporating such in the pre-employment orientation process.

International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) published Bridging the Digital Divide: Assessment of the Digital Skills of Migrant Workers and the Perspective of Employers in Thailand (October 2023):

  • The digital divide exacerbates existing vulnerabilities: The report defines the ‘digital divide’ as the unequal access to digital technology and its benefits faced by vulnerable groups, such as migrant workers. Due to xenophobia and discrimination, migrant workers are subjected to conditions that adversely affect their health and wellbeing, such as “poor wages and working conditions, social exclusion and a lack of skills development opportunities.” Crises, such as Covid-19, coupled with a lack of access to digital technology, compounds these existing vulnerabilities: “Migrants who lacked access to digital devices and possessed limited digital literacy and skills risked further social exclusion and marginalization.” More broadly, ensuring everyone has equal access to digital technology and skills training will have wider economic and social benefits: “Policies and interventions that take adequate measures to address this digital divide can lead to greater social and digital inclusion, and increased employability, productivity and earning potential for all members of society, including migrant workers.”
  • Gaps in digital skills development among migrant workers: The report assesses digital skills and competency against the European Digital Competence Framework for Citizens, which includes (1) Information and Data Literacy; (2) Communication and Collaboration; (3) Digital Content Creation; (4) Online Safety; and (5) Problem-Solving. Based on this framework, it was found that a significant number of migrants interviewed did not have the digital literacy to use online banking and access public services, such as healthcare and immigration, despite the fact that 95% used smartphones on a daily basis. This “can have a notable impact on the social inclusion of migrant workers in Thailand.” It was also found that “[e]ducation, income, and Thai language proficiency levels were most strongly correlated with digital skills level.”
  • What can companies do?: The report provides recommendations to government authorities, development partners, civil society organizations, employer associations and employers on bridging the ‘digital divide.’ Recommendations relevant to companies include: (1) “Coordinate with development partners and CSOs to disseminate digital skills training programmes” to migrant workers. More specifically, companies can “take steps to actively support and encourage their participation in trainings without imposing any reduction in wages”; (2) “Incorporate a digital life skills component into existing pre-employment orientation programmes and training initiatives for migrant workers”; and (3) “Ensure the inclusion of migrant workers in all internal efforts to digitise work processes and procedures within the enterprise.” This could involve “organizing trainings for migrant workers to familiarize themselves with new digital procedures.”

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