National Skills Coalition shares examples, data and meaning of digital skills in workers and the workplace

Thank you to Amanda Bergson-Shilcock from the National Skills Coalition for sharing her presentation, American Workers’ Digital Skills: What the data tells us. The presentation includes:

  • Examples of digital skills in the workplace
  • Data of US Workers’ foundational digital skills
  • What the data means
  • How we can connect the dots for policymakers

The presentation was given in June so COVID is part of the picture, which is important since COVID has changed nearly everything we do – and some of the changes are likely here to stay.

I don’t want to be a spoiler but it includes great examples like how KFC created a VR (virtual reality) escape room to train new employees. You can’t escape until you demonstrate the correct 6-step chicken frying process. There are lists of OSHA-approved construction training online – designed for tablets and smartphones. There’s AR (augmented reality) training for Boeing assembly workers – turns out fewer mistakes than with tradition or traditional-online training.

Where we are sitting with digital skills is not great – 13 percent of those surveyed had no digital skills and 18 percent had limited skills. Those percentages varied by industry; 18 percent of hospitality workers had no digital skills. Their jobs are among the most vulnerable during the pandemic. Working from home becomes a lot more difficult without digital skills. Even if you could sew, bake, fix cars or do something else skilled offline – you’d almost need to promote online to get work during the pandemic.

A surprising statistic – 20 percent of workers with no digital skills are supervisors. That is putting the supervised workers and the employer at risk as I assume someone without digital skills would be hesitant to adopt new technologies. (There are exceptions; I remember a farmer near retirement who hired a young, precision ag expert to learn the ropes as the current team retired out.)

The thing that wasn’t surprising to me is that lack of digital skill impacts all demographics – in other words, there are “kids” without digital skills too. Being able to text without looking or post an Instagram picture is not how they assess digital skills. Everyone needs to learn digital skills. Some pick them up more quickly than others – but no one is born knowing how to add bullet points to a document. Not surprising is the greater gap seen with workers of color and/or immigrants. Structural racism helps drive digital skills gaps.

The presentation is interesting and easy to browse through. If you don’t have people in your life without digital skills or if the only ones you have are long past retirement, it’s easy to think the issues is smaller than it is.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, Policy, Research by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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