Basic Digital Skills Can Lead to a Middle Class Life
Odds are if you are reading this article, you have some digital skills. The real question is: do you have the right ones? A new report shows a growing divide between those who have certain digital skills and those who are falling behind.
A study of job postings by Burning Glass Technologies and Capital One found that middle-skill jobs that require digital skills are outpacing those that do not in a number of ways. Middle-skill jobs, according to the report, are those with less than 80 percent of postings calling for a bachelor’s degree and with a median hourly wage above the national living wage of $15 per hour. Middle-skill jobs currently comprise 39 percent of total employment in the U.S., the report says.
The research was funded by the Capital One Foundation, which announced a Future Edge initiative that will bestow $150 million in community grants and initiatives over the next five years to help empower more Americans to succeed in an ever-changing digitally-driven economy.
Pretty bluntly, the report comes to this conclusion: a job seeker without the ability to use programs like Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Word not only won’t get hired, but they most likely won’t even get an interview. Skills many of us take for granted are barring some people from meaningful employment. In addition to word processing skills, other in-demand abilities include the use of medical billing programs and the running of computerized drill presses.
Some key findings of the Burning Glass/Capital One report:
- Nearly 8 in 10 middle-skill jobs require digital skills. Spreadsheet and word processing proficiencies have become a baseline requirement for the majority of middle-skill opportunities (78 percent).
- Digitally intensive middle-skill occupations are growing faster than other middle-skill jobs. Digitally intensive jobs have grown 2.5 times more rapidly than middle-skill jobs that do not require spreadsheets, word processing, or other digital skills. Between 2003 and 2013, digitally intensive jobs grew by 4.7 percent, compared to 1.9 percent growth for other positions.
- Digitally intensive middle-skill jobs pay more than middle-skill jobs that do not include digital components. 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.
Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Lauren Weber says that “[m]iddle-skill jobs have become the holy grail to economists who are concerned that the U.S. labor market is becoming ‘hollowed out,’ with employers adding mostly low-wage jobs for the two-thirds of workers without a college degree and high-paying jobs for graduates, but few jobs in between that can build and sustain a middle class.”
The Burning Glass Technologies report says that since the recovery from the recession, digitally intensive middle-skills jobs have seen growth equal to that of high-skill positions. It’s basically a statistical tie at 4.8 percent for the digital middle-skills jobs and 4.7 percent for the high-skill jobs in a three-year period from 2010 to 2013.“Since they are growing more rapidly and pay more than other middle-skill jobs, these jobs offer a promising career path for Americans who lack a bachelor’s degree,” the report says.
On the flip side, jobs that don’t require digital skills, like those primarily in transportation, construction, and installation/repair, lag in pay, growth, and opportunity. They have had the slowest growth of any category, behind even low-skill positions, by a significant margin of 1.9 percent for the non-digital middle skill jobs vs. the 2.9 percent for the low-skills jobs.
Weber says that Burning Glass used the 80 percent threshold because many employers are “demanding college degrees for positions where the skills required don’t suggest a degree should be necessary.” It’s a problem called “credential creep.”
Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal circles back to an earlier report by Burning Glass to explain credential creep and how the demand for bachelor’s degrees is reshaping the workforce. The report in question found that there is a degree requirement for a wide range of jobs, but the requirement is most significant in fields that previously didn’t mandate degrees. The gap, which is the difference between the percent of postings requiring the degree vs. the actual percent employed in the field that hold a degree, can be significant. The report said, “For example, 65 percent of postings for Executive Secretaries and Executive Assistants now call for a bachelor’s degree. Only 19 percent of those currently employed in these roles have a B.A.”