The Korean government recently piloted the K-Digital Platform (KDP) to enhance national digital literacy and foster manpower suitable for digital convergence as digital transformation and low-carbon economy transition accelerated in all areas of the labor market. This is to strengthen the digital capabilities of various consumers, including workers, young job seekers, and the self-employed, and to preemptively and systematically respond to structural changes in future industries.
The global spread of COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation while rapidly advancing digitalization through the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Digital transformation refers to the promotion of digitalization of traditional industries by applying digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), IoT, and 5G communications to various fields. As online, and unmanned technologies become common throughout daily life and overall industries, digital transformation based on digital technology is expected to continue even after the end of COVID-19. Major countries are rushing to respond to the upcoming future era by churning out policies to support companies' digital transformation, including the USA's AI and high-tech industry support system, China's new promotion initiative for economic development through cloud, digitalization and smartization, and Japan’s new establishment of the Digital Ministry. In Korea, the Korean New Deal 2.0 (July 2021) policy was established and the Industrial Digital Transformation Promotion Act (December 2021) was enacted to lay the foundation for a system to support digital transformation. However, despite these efforts, Korea marked 12th in the digital competitiveness ranking by country announced in October 2021 by the Swiss International Business School (IMD). Korea rose for the third consecutive year from 19th place in 2017 to 8th place in 2020, but fell four levels in 2021, falling short of its reputation as a digital powerhouse.
In a survey of 329 small and medium-sized exporters, Korea's small and medium-sized companies gave 70.1 points to national digital competitiveness, while giving 46.7 points to their digital competitiveness. In light of these results, the digital technology capabilities required for digital transformation of Korean industries and companies are insufficient compared to major countries, and improvements are required in terms of securing digital talent and regulations. To improve the digital capabilities of the entire nation, the Ministry of Employment and Labor and Human Resource Development of Korea(HRDK) have introduced KDP to build digital platforms in strategic regions. The KDP is an open platform where all training in the field of digital convergence is conducted and all resources can be used by various members in the regions to carry out projects centered on idea sharing and problem solving. There are two main functions of the KDP: 1) Hub of Digital Training and 2) Sharing and Opening of Digital Infrastructure. By performing these two key functions, the purpose of the KDP project is to enhance the digital capabilities of the entire nation and support the digital transformation of industry.
The KDP can provide digital training programs to meet the needs of the companies through linkage between local companies and local governments, and joint programs with local governments can also be operated using the platform's infrastructure. In addition, the KDP provides digital lectures for future talents and programs to support activities of student clubs regarding new technologies. Anyone, including workers and job seekers, can develop their digital capabilities by participating in vocational training programs in the digital and new technology fields based on their needs. This mechanism is possible because it is open for employees of the member companies and local residents to participate. The KDP first introduced in 2021, has gradually expanded and currently is being operated in 20 locations throughout the country. Considering the areas and fields of deployment, the number of platforms will be increased to 60 by 2025. Through the establishment of KDP, those who have difficulty riding on the big wave of digital transformation have also been provided with an opportunity to access and utilize new digital technologies more easily.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The KDP is innovative for the following reasons:
- It is operated in cooperation between the government and the private sector, and anyone can easily access it without regard to their location in Korea. As it is one of public policies supported by the government, anyone can be a beneficiary regardless of their age, job, and gender.
- KDP programs are flexible so that they can be customized based on the needs of participants. The programs can be diversified through various types of connections, including platform-other programs, platform-local enterprises, platform-local governments, platform-education and training institutions, and platform-platforms.
- KDP operators have regional and in-house councils. The councils provide future directions for the operation of each platform and suggestions for improvement. With self-autonomy in operation, each platform can be developed in various ways depending on regional situations.
What is the current status of your innovation?
Introduced in 2021, the KDP is now in full swing of operation. Five platforms were built in 2021, and 15 more were added in 2022, raising the public accessibility to and awareness of the Platform. Digital vocational training programs such as AI, and big data for 7,238 people have been completed or is now in progress. There are also various efforts being made to share and open digital facilities and equipment for the general public, which makes it easier for them to access and become familiar with new digital technologies. A total of 10,116 people have participated in the sharing and opening of their digital infrastructure, with the utilization time of 87,922 hours. In June 2022, the newly enacted rule laid the foundation for a more systematic operation of the Platform. In addition, regional and in-house councils were formed. Along these efforts, the KDP needs more local platforms and public attention to move from the introduction period to the settlement stage.
Collaborations & Partnerships
A total of 20 platforms are being operated by three large companies - SK Telecom, Samsung Heavy Industries and POSCO, eight universities, and nine educational and training institutions. This is not just a government-led and designed system, but an innovative program introduced through the participation of various stakeholders, putting corporate and public opinions into consideration.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Through the KDP, any local resident can experience new technologies in the digital-related fields. Local companies can use the digital infrastructure of the Platform to conduct vocational training programs for improving job skills of their employees. Local governments can conduct various digital-related seminars, lectures and programs using the platform. These activities are expected to bring about the enhancement of national digital capabilities and competitiveness in the long run.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
For the past two years, 7,238 people have attended digital vocational training programs. A total of 10,116 people have also participated in the sharing of digital infrastructure, with a utilization time of 87,922 hours. These numbers are calculated from the guest books used by each platform. Key achievements of the KDP are:
- POSCO, a major company in Korea, has developed a tool that can diagnose individual digital capabilities and present a curriculum according to their level. The use of the tool makes it possible to diagnose and enhance the digital capabilities of both job seekers and their partners.
- In collaboration with Intel, Verilog Semiconductor Design Practical Training was conducted, and the top 18 trainees were recognized with official Intel certificates. The KDP will continue its efforts, encouraging more companies, universities and people to participate in KDP programs.
Challenges and Failures
The two biggest challenges of this innovation were: 1) a low level of awareness of Korea's digital transformation (DX) and the need to promote DX urgently, and 2) a difficulty in DX for small and medium-sized enterprises due to the chaebol (large conglomerate) dominated economy, which is Korea's unique corporate culture. The use of AI and data is no longer an option, but an imperative in the entire industry. Therefore, relevant support for the strengthening of the digital capabilities of SMEs, the main players in promoting DX, was required in order to solidify the foundation of the digital industry ecosystem. Regional digital platforms made it possible to build up the digital literacy of the general public and the digital capabilities of local SMEs. Continuing this innovation requires sustainable improvement in legal, institutional and regulatory systems that support digital transformation.
Conditions for Success
In order to successfully carry out the KDP, 1) improvements of related systems and regulatory regimes were needed to vitalize the platforms. Innovation was possible thanks to the agreement of the Korean government, universities, and private companies to accurately diagnose the necessity and urgency of digital transformation and continuously overhaul related systems. 2) It was necessary to reorganize the industrial structure by strengthening the digital capabilities of SMEs. SMEs and promising startups should be discovered in order to strengthen digital capabilities. Support for utilizing digital transformation technologies and developing solutions is required. The KDP was able to promote the digital transformation of SMEs by providing various joint activities between regional platforms and local companies.
The KDP can be benchmarked in other countries where digital technology capabilities relatively lack in comparison to major countries. According to the , the level of awareness and preparation for DX in Korea is generally low, and the digital transformation stage is located at the initial level of deployment. Most of countries around the world are experiencing similar situations to Korea. DX is an essential factor, not an option, in order to survive rapid industrial changes and global competition nowadays. Therefore, it is expected that Korea, as a country operating the KDP to improve the digital capabilities of the entire nation, can play an important role in elevating the global digital competitiveness by sharing the experience and know-how to other countries.
While many other projects have been restricted to college students and job seekers, the KDP is open to everyone including elementary school students, the elderly, and the self-employed. Not only Koreans but also foreigners visiting Korea can use it. The KDP is characterized by the value of sharing and opening digital infrastructure to anyone who needs it and wants it. Our goal is to improve the digital capabilities of the entire nation through the sharing and opening of digital technologies, and we will continue to innovate so that the platforms can become hot spots and bring out a much wider spread of digital transformation.