Coursera’s Global Skills Index 2020 summary: Everything you need to know

August 14, 2020
June 26, 2023

Let’s face it, this report couldn’t come at a better time. We’re looking at a vastly different skills landscape in 2020, with COVID-19, economic difficulties and unemployment issues driving mass reskilling and upskilling. Coursera’s Global Skills Index 2020 highlights where we are now, tapping into their 65 million global learners and data from the past 12 months.

It analyses skill proficiency on a region/country level and takes a look at various key industries before dipping into role and education trends. And it’s this detail that takes it to a pretty meaty 66 pages. With the motto ‘we’ve read it so that you don’t have to’ in our heads, we’ve combed through Coursera’s Global Skills Index 2020 and picked out everything we think you need to know, with our L&D and HR hats on. However, you can read the full report here.

Global, high-level insights

Internet access plays a huge role in skills proficiency, which is unsurprising given the role of e-learning in developing new skills. There’s a 65% positive correlation according to Coursera, who use the Netherlands (94% internet access and 85% proficiency) and Indonesia (40% and 29%) to illustrate this point.

Higher labour force participation is tied to skills proficiency, meaning that when more of the working-age population is active that drives skill levels. Again there’s an example: Switzerland’s 84% labour force participation has played its part in the 98% average skills proficiency, while Greece’s 68% rate correlates to a much lower skill level of 56%.

Switzerland is worthy of this spotlight, as the only nation to appear to register a podium finish for skill level in all three categories (business, technology, and data science). Coursera’s ‘Cutting Edge’ nations (the 76th percentile or above/top 15 countries of the 60 analysed) are largely dominated by Europe, indicating that skill proficiency is higher in the continent. This high-performing category is occupied solely by European nations in both technology and data science, while only four non-European countries were able to gatecrash the business top 15 (United Arab Emirates, Singapore, New Zealand and Canada).

Trending skills globally

Regional skill levels and insights

It’s important to explain here that this report focuses on business, technology, and data science – the three most popular domains on Coursera in terms of enrollments, and they encapsulate the skills most crucial to the future of work. Each of these is broken down into six key competencies, and each country’s skill level in those guides their overall skill levels and global rankings.

Okay, with that out the way, here are some of the interesting and key points by region.

North America

What’s interesting is the split between the US and Canada. In business, the US leads the way in accounting, finance and marketing, yet Canada is ahead for sales, management and communications. In terms of the six competencies relating to technology, Canada leads the US on every one, although the issue is that the low skills in the south are bringing down the average for the US. It posted single-digit levels in computer networking (8%), operating systems (6%) and human-computer interaction (3%), which is likely a result of economic imbalance. For data science, it’s a much more level playing field. Although Canada is streaks ahead for data visualisation, statistical programming and data management.

Latin America

It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Latin America is lagging behind in business skills. Brazil aside, its 10 other nations prop up the global rankings. Yet there are a few bright spots, such as Ecuador’s 87% skill level in accounting and the sales proficiency in Costa Rica (68%), Chile (66%) and Guatemala (56%). In technology, all LATAM countries sit in the bottom 20, but the region is far more adept when it comes to data science.

Argentina, “home to a vibrant tech ecosystem”, a free higher education system and the region’s highest English proficiency, leads the way in 22nd, while Chile also made the top 30 nations and four other countries sit between positions 34 and 39. Data visualisation was a standout competency, with five nations registering above-75% levels.


The dominant continent in this report, Europe boasts the top 15 most-skilled countries globally. While Finland and Switzerland dominate as a result of renowned education systems, Russia leads the way in technology and data science skills, with informatics being taught from a young age.

The UK is, worryingly, trailing behind its neighbours and rivals. With demand for data scientists and data engineers rising 231% in the past five years, the UK’s rankings of 23rd in overall computer science skills and 24th in overall data science skills are a concern. The side-effect is that many of the region’s organisations are struggling to fill data science roles (47%) and data engineering positions (37%).

Middle East and Africa

In the seven nations analysed, the biggest concern is a lack of data science skills. Aside from Israel, which ranks 18th globally due to its entrepreneurial and educated population that’s driving a thriving tech industry, the other six sit in position 44 and below. Overall, the region’s biggest hitter comes in the form of the UAE’s business competency, ranked fifth globally. Largely thanks to its cutting edge sales (92%), management (88%) and marketing (83%) skills. Across the region, sales is a standout talent and five of the seven nations reported a skill level of 75% and above. In terms of technology skills, there’s a similar trend for security engineering, with four nations hitting the over-75% skill level.

Lastly, South Africa has some data science catching up to do! While it’s overall skill level in business (49%) and technology (46%) are competitive, data science proficiency sits at just 27%. A ‘digital divide’ and the levels of access to the internet could be holding it back in these stakes.

Asia Pacific

While the developed nations are better able to invest in education and upskilling, the lack of resources in its developing nations has created an obvious employment and skills divide in Asia Pacific. Coursera cite “poor-quality STEM education systems in many countries” as the reason for a lack of data science and technology skills in students who then enter the workplace. While New Zealand, Singapore and Australia seem to dominate, scratch beneath the surface and there are some exceptions to the rule. Hong Kong is the region’s best when it comes to data science (ranking 16th globally), while Vietnam (22nd) and Japan (24nd) sit closely behind New Zeland (19th) in the technology rankings.

With such large economies, to see India and China so far down the global rankings might come as a surprise. China’s highest position (35th) comes in data science where it has a skill level of 42%, where India finds itself with a 15% score in 51st place. However, India fares much better in business (44% vs. 25%) and technology (34% vs. 17%).

Curious about the skills trends within your own teams? A learning needs analysis could not only help you understand where you are now but the talents you’re lacking to reach your goals.

How the top industries perform

As you can see from the below screenshot, Coursera analysed 10 influential industries across the same three domains. Each industry has its own detailed summary, which covers proficiency and trending skills. Again, we’ll point out the key issues in each to streamline these findings.

Coursera's Global Skills Index 2020 Industries summary

Screenshot from Coursera’s Global Skills Index 2020

The automotive industry’s biggest concern is that they’re currently lagging behind the rest when it comes to sales skills, although its proficiency in data science could help it build better customer relationships and combat this.

Professional services boasts the second-best business skills and fourth-best technology skills, but there’s an imbalance in data science, where “data visualization, data management, and statistics skills lagging behind every other industry” and needs to be addressed to provide better client experiences.

The issue in consumer goods centres around who can keep up with digital demand and always-on consumption. “On average, large consumer goods companies have online market shares that are at least five to 10 percentage points below the shares they have in the brick-and-mortar world” and this results in vast numbers of lost sales. Business and data science skills are worryingly low and the online issue won’t be addressed until they improve.

The finance industry, conversely, has had no issue in creating a digital offering and boasts high-levels of data science proficiency that have enabled them to thrive online during the pandemic. However, the lowest marketing skills of all industries raises concerns about how effectively they can communicate all of their other strengths to customers.

Healthcare was forced into adopting new technology at a fast pace during the pandemic, yet the industry tends to lag behind when it comes to technology and data science skills. If they are able to improve this and harness the power of automation, it could revolutionise healthcare in many ways. It is worth noting that its security engineering skill was classed as cutting edge, which is reassuring given the sensitive data they manage.

The numbers say it all for Insurance, which ranks lowest in both the technology and data science domains. But, with consumers expecting more personalised and digitised offerings, those that can’t tackle this skills issue might get left behind.

Manufacturing finds itself lagging behind in very few business and technology skills (sales, human-computer interaction and software engineering). However, it’s a different picture in data science and this needs to change if they are to find ways of automating tasks that can’t be completed with social distancing measures in place. Machine learning, statistical programming and statistics are the notable blind spots.

Media and entertainment’s technological prowess can only be outdone by the tech industry itself, and it outperforms many others in human-computer interaction. With a COVID-caused surge in demand for live, streamed and multi-player content, these proficiencies are crucial to connecting users with the right content. The issue lies in business skills, where only sales and communications can be labelled as cutting edge. On the whole, it lags behind all other industries when it comes to business.

Technology is the highest-ranked industry overall, with Coursera flagging complacency as a key concern. However, there are still areas that need improvement, such as security engineering, data management and data visualisation.

We were hastily reminded of telecommunications’ importance during the pandemic, Coursera highlights that the rigid structures of its business might make it resistance to change and cause its eighth-placed ranking for tech skills. Although it’s worth pointing out that machine learning is a strength, which could help it deliver better experiences moving forward.

Role and education trends

In order to ensure that students have the skills needed to succeed in entering the workforce, there needs to be a better connection between university education and the evolving labour market. Hence the addition of this section to the report, in which they’ve “unified Coursera’s skills, fields of study, and role data to help universities understand the skills their students will need to pursue sustainable careers across industries.”


Blockchain’s ability to create secure, digital ledger systems has caught the eye of forward-thinking companies, but the right skillset is required to ensure that it can be used effectively. Cloud computing is nothing new, but with public spending in this area projected to reach  $370 billion in 2022 and a current skills shortage, its importance is growing. This is partly responsible for the surge in demand for cybersecurity skills, with cyberattacks set to reach a global cost of $6 trillion annually by 2021.

Data science

With the amount of available data rising, the ability to find and share the narrative while weaving a good yarn is crucial. This is why data storytelling is currently a sought-after skill, alongside data visualisation. Big data is at the heart of deep learning’s story, although a shortage of skills means this tale needs new heroes to keep up with its growing practical applications.

From a language and programming perspective, natural language processing (NLP), Python and SQL remain highly important. TensorFlow, meanwhile, has gained attention for its ability to offer a basic understanding of machine learning as “a popular open-source tool for building, training, and deploying machine learning models”.


The business skills that Coursera highlight are nothing new, but they’ll arguably be more important in a post-COVID world. Project management skills, for example, will be crucial in adopting new technology and managing fast-moving projects, while user experience design will play a key part in driving conversions and a better ROI. The same can be said for web development, which will also be vital in attracting users and driving traffic.

What do you think? Worrying that you’ve got some key skills you need to develop? You might need a learning platform