A Digital Competency Framework for the New Digital Workforce

January 31, 2018 Richard Justenhoven
digital competence

The Aon Digital Competency Framework

There’s no sign of let-up in the speed at which the workplace is becoming digitised; technologies are being developed and implemented with increasingly short intervals. But what impact does this have on the make up of workforce itself? And how does this impact the need for digital competency?

Clearly there is an element of straightforward upskilling and of learning new technologies from an operating perspective. But a workforce strong with digital competency is more than this; it’s about embracing all that technology offers and understanding how to maximise its use. Indeed, ‘digital competency’ is seen as being so critical to future success it is one of the European Union’s key competencies for Lifelong Learning and, as such, is an important skillset to be considered by HR professionals.

Are digital natives, digitally competent?

One may assume that simply hiring the so-called ‘digital natives’ – those who have grown up surrounded by and immersed in technology be it smartphone and mobile devices, social media networks or apps helping with seemingly everything – would be digitally competent and embrace the world of technology. And yet, research shows this is not necessarily the case with many young people having rather low digital skills (ECDL Foundation, 2014). But digital competence is not about possessing digital skills. So, what does make a person digitally competent?

Numerous definitions abound of the term ‘digital competence’. As we reported before, there is a variety of terms used in this context. Based on an analysis of 15 frameworks for the development of digital competence, Ferrari (2012) proposed the following definition:

“Digital Competence is the set of knowledge, skills, attitudes, abilities, strategies, and awareness that are required when using ICT [Information and Communications Technology] and digital media to perform tasks; solve problems; communicate; manage information; collaborate; create and share content; and build knowledge effectively, efficiently, appropriately, critically, creatively, autonomously, flexibly, ethically, reflectively for work, leisure, participation, learning, and socializing.”

The development of the Aon Digital Competency Profile

Recognising that digital competence is not equal to digital skill but rather is concerned with how people work in digital environments – their attitudes, approach, and so on – cut-e sought to develop a framework to allow such competencies to be assessed.

The Digital Competency Profile (DCP) focuses on the competence areas rather than assessing skill or knowledge: that is, the digital soft skills. This approach is supported by the work of Janssen et al (2013) who “identified attitudes as an important aspect of digital competence.”

Assessing employees’ or applicants’ personalities, work styles, potential and soft skills is a core element of modern HR and is already addressed by the cut-e shapes and views assessments. With the DCP, we aim to combine these with the specific characteristics needed to cooperate with others in digital environments.

The Digital Competency Profile includes four Areas – Explorer, Achiever, Thinker, Socializer – and 12 competencies and, whilst it has been developed based on a review of research into this area and has a solid foundation in theory, we also have empirical data across three different independent organisations which provides the reliability and validity evidence needed.

We know that such a framework will become essential for organisations as they seek to hire those embracing the technological future.


ECDL Foundation (2014). The Fallacy of the ‘Digital Native’: Why Young People Need to Develop their Digital Skills.

Ferrari, A. (2012). Digital Competence in practice: An analysis of frameworks. Sevilla: JRC IPTS. (DOI: 10.2791/82116).

Janssen, J., Stoyanov, S., Ferrari, A., Punie, Y., Pannekeet, K., & Sloep, P. (2013). Experts’ views on digital competence: Commonalities and differences. Computers & Education, 68, 473-481.


About the Author

Richard Justenhoven

Richard Justenhoven is the product development director within Aon's Assessment Solutions. A leading organizational psychologist, Richard is an acknowledged expert in the design, implementation and evaluation of online assessments and a sought after speaker about such topics.

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