Australians are known for a love of mobile phones and obsessively scrolling their socials, but new figures suggest we’re well behind the global curve when it comes to turning those talents into useful workplace digital skills.

Just 26 per cent of Australian workers consider themselves very prepared for workplace digital skills, according to the newly-released Salesforce Global Digital Skills Index (GDSI) – well behind the 40 per cent of global workers and 44 per cent of US workers that said the same thing.

The overall global average score for digital readiness – based on preparedness, skill level, access, and active participation in digital upskilling – was 33 out of 100.

By contrast, Australia’s overall score is 21 – putting it towards the bottom of a range of scores stretching from 15 to 63.

That’s a dismal showing for a country with higher smartphone penetration than nearly any other place on earth – and more than 1 in 3 Australians buying new phones last year alone, according to Telsyte.

Cultural technophilia hasn’t, however, translated into business skills: “While certain countries feel more digitally ready than others,” the analysis notes, “there is an urgent need for global investment to close the digital skills gap and build a more inclusive workforce.”

Australia’s digital skills gap yawns bigger than most

This problem was evident across the GDSI, which surveyed 23,000 workers across 19 countries and identified yawning gaps – wider in Australia than in most other countries – between the skills workers have and the skills they believe employers will want in the future.

Although two-thirds of Australian Gen Z respondents said they had advanced social media and web navigation skills, for example, just 26 per cent said the same about data analytics – a core business skill in which more than half admitted still being at the ‘beginner’ phase.

Australian workers were also less advanced in using digital communication and productivity tools, with just 37 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively, citing advanced skills in those areas – well below the 46 per cent and 43 per cent global average.

“Everyday skills such as social media and web navigation don’t necessarily translate to the core workplace digital skills needed by business to drive recovery, resilience, and growth,” the analysis said.

Indeed, just one in three Australian Gen-Z respondents said they feel very prepared with the workplace digital media skills they will need over the next five years –well behind the global average (44 per cent) and peers in the UK (50 per cent), Singapore (44 per cent), and United States (40 per cent).

Baby boomers were in an even worse position, with just 15 per cent feeling very prepared with the workplace digital skills they’ll need in five years.

Interestingly, Japan – long-known as a hotbed of technology innovation – was the lowest-ranked of all 19 countries surveyed.

Stunting the digital skills agenda

The findings – available as a series of interactive charts – suggest that unless training and engagement change dramatically, most Australians will struggle to translate their love of personal technology into valuable workplace skills including collaboration technologies, digital administrative tools, encryption and cybersecurity, project management, and data science.

That bodes poorly for the innovation agenda of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who recently fronted the National Press Club reiterating his goal of “making Australia a top ten data and digital economy by 2030.”

The government’s commitment of $1.6b in funding to support Australia’s Economic Accelerator – what Morrison called a “stage-gated, competitive program designed to attract projects… with high potential” – reflects its desire to pump funding into purposeful innovation.

Yet making the jump from personal knowledge to economically productive, business-relevant endeavours will be hard: “85 per cent of Australian research is rated, officially, at or above world standard,” he said, “yet we continue to underperform, frustratingly, in achieving commercialisation outcomes.”

The Salesforce research confirms that the gap between capabilities and results remains a bugbear of Australia’s education-industrial complex – and that overcoming it will require an ongoing commitment to engaging workers in relevant training and upskilling programs.

“There’s a gap between the frontier of innovation and the skills necessary to use those innovations,” said Peter Schwartz, chief futures officer and senior vice president for strategic planning with Salesforce.

“That in itself is not new – but what is new, is the scope of that innovation, how widespread it is, how it has diffused in every aspect of life. It is hard to do almost anything these days without some form of digital interaction.”