Automation may be the most recognized threat to employment for many people, but there is another immediate concern that’s affecting industry and dampening employment—the digital skills gap. Far too many workers, especially new workers, aren’t equipped for the demands of available jobs in traditional and emerging occupations. It isn’t for lack of options, but for lack of access, and people who take charge of their digital skills training can also remove substantial barriers to their own employment.
There are not many jobs left that don’t require a firm grasp of modern, conventional workplace technology, and few of them pay well enough to provide financial stability. For middle-skill jobs, where the real money is, more than 80 percent of positions require at least the ability to use office productivity or occupational-specific software.
The fact is, with the exception of some craft and trade occupations, almost all jobs require a baseline level of digital literacy that rises year after year. The manufacturing sector, once one of the most reliable employers of low-skilled labor, has become so technologically dependent that more than half of the readily (and rapidly growing) available new jobs will go unfilled…70 percent of them due at least in part to missing computer skills!
This may only seem like a problem for older workers or those who hadn’t worked since the computers took over the workplace, but data show that a digital skills gap exists for people of all ages. It was found that even among recent college graduates, fewer than half report having adequate digital skills needed to enter the workplace. Many workforce development professionals have experience with a younger worker who can do almost anything with a smart phone but can’t operate even the most common desktop computer applications.
This large, pervasive and economically detrimental skills gap not only exists, but persists despite industry-wide chatter about its importance and how to solve it. Some of this is due to the turnaround time that is necessary for new training programs to take hold, but it also shows that the increase in technological careers is adding to the stress of the skills gap. Furthermore, far too many primary and secondary education programs don’t require even basic computer training, especially in lower-income communities where the need for employability skills is felt most acutely.
There is a bright side to this and that is the tremendous opportunity for individuals who either have or are willing to gain digital workplace skills. The trend for informal education and micro-credentialing from younger workers has caught on with employers as they are showing an increased willingness to consider credentials from non-traditional sources. In some cases, even ahead of a four-year degree.