Demand for Those with Digital Skills Increasing

Digital fluency can be encouraged through training and education

By Aliah D. Wright Jul 1, 2015
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MCLEAN, Va.—While many have discussed the need for IT workers who can code, experts say there still remains a need for those with “middle-skills”—or the ability to perform such tasks as using spreadsheets or word processing programs. Job seekers without these basic skills stand little chance of earning more than the living wage, and employers are hard-pressed to find those who possess more advanced digital skills.

Middle-skill jobs—those that typically require more than a high school diploma, but less than a bachelor’s degree—make up 39 percent of U.S. employment, according to Burning Glass Technologies’ and Capital One’s new study on the topic, Crunched by the Numbers: The Digital Skills Gap in the Workforce.

“Digital skill development is no longer just a good idea. Instead these have become threshold skills and if [people] don’t have them they will be boxed out of the labor market,” said Stephen Lynch, director of workforce and economic development services for Burning Glass Technologies, during a panel discussion on the role of digital fluency. The discussion was held June 26, 2015, and sponsored by Capital One.

Lynch was joined by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Capital One Chief Enterprise Services Officer Frank LaPrade, Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant and Year Up National Capital Region Executive Director Ronda Harris Thompson.The discussion was moderated by Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones. Black Girls Code is an initiative dedicated to teaching young girls how to code. Year Up is a one-year training program that provides low-income young adults, ages 18-24, with hands-on skills development, corporate internships, college credits and support.

During the panel discussion, Burning Glass Technologies and Capital One unveiled new research that revealed that, without basic technical skills, candidates nationwide may be unable to find jobs and employers will be unable to find talent.

The panelists said it’s up to each state to begin initiatives to make sure the populace is digitally literate—meaning that they are able to complete such basic tasks as using spreadsheets or word processing programs, using basic computer programs for medical billing purposes, or operating computerized drill presses. The solution, the panelists said, is to re-skill those without that necessary basic knowledge and also to begin educating youngsters in grade school.

“There are many states that are behind in terms of getting coding and technology education in the schools,” according to Bryant. “All the states in the union need to [begin teaching coding] as early as first grade,” she said.

“I want a Crayola book that says ‘STEM’ on the front of it,” McAuliffe said jokingly, referring to the acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. Such jobs are in demand, researchers say, but many companies are having a hard time finding talent to fill STEM jobs.

Lynch said his research shows that nondigital-intensive middle-skill roles “only pay a living wage 20 percent of the time and many of [those jobs] are disappearing.” Digital skills such as those needed to create spreadsheets, use word processing programs and use health care technology “are foundational when paired with other skills. That’s what’s giving people the ability to progress.”

In March, Capital One announced it would earmark $150 million for initiatives and community grants over the next five years to help Americans succeed in an ever-evolving digitally driven economy. The company’s Future Edge initiative aims to collaborate with educational and community groups nationwide to give community grants and aid efforts to help America’s workforce fill digital roles, and also to provide individuals with resources and money management tools to help them grow and invest for the future.

According to research from the middle-skills report, nationally, digital skills are in high demand. Of the 7.9 million middle-skill jobs available today, 6.2 million require digital skills. According to Burning Glass Technologies’ report, the ability to use a spreadsheet and word processing program is now a “baseline requirement for the majority of middle-skill opportunities (78 percent).”

What jobs specifically require middle skills? In the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, for example, such jobs include:

  • Administrative/office assistant.

  • Sales representative.

  • Network and computer systems administrator.

  • Computer support specialist.

  • Registered nurse.

  • Retail supervisor.

    Other facts from the report:

    In Virginia, middle-skill jobs make up 40 percent of employment opportunities in the state; 80 percent of all middle-skill job postings call for digital skills, and 46 percent of those jobs pay more than nondigital middle-skill jobs.

    In Washington, D.C., middle-skill jobs make up 36 percent of employment opportunities: 87 percent of all middle-skill job postings call for digital skills and 48 percent of such jobs pay more than nondigital middle-skill jobs. There is twice as much demand for computer and network support skills in D.C. than there is nationally.

    However, across the country, “digitally intensive middle-skill jobs pay more than middle-skill jobs that do not require a digital component. Digitally intensive middle-skill occupations offer 18 percent higher wages on average: $23.76 per hour compared to $20.14 per hour for all other middle-skill jobs,” the report stated.

    Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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