Unqualified? 5 Computer Skills That Too Many People Lack

man typing on laptop

Typing on a laptop | iStock.com

Technology is part of the fabric of our daily lives, but when it comes to the computer skills needed to land high-paying jobs, many Americans are falling behind. Employers of all types complain of a skills gap, especially when it comes to technology. They have jobs for people who are comfortable with computers and know how to use specialized software, they just can’t find anyone to fill them.

Part of the problem may be that people are overestimating their own technical abilities. Eighty-seven percent of young grads rate themselves well prepared for today’s demanding careers, Payscale found. But only 50% of managers say the same thing. The youngest workers are lacking in both soft and hard skills. The biggest gaps are in critical thinking, attention to detail, communication, writing proficiency, and public speaking. Yet many newbie job seekers also lack the technical and computer skills that are essential to succeeding in today’s competitive job market. Older workers, meanwhile, may have let their skills get rusty or never bothered to learn them in the first place. Whether you’re 22 or 52, that knowledge gap can be a big hurdle to overcome when you start looking for a job.

We’re not just talking about not being able to code, which some people now argue is a fundamental skill on par with reading and math. Plenty of people are lacking even more basic technical and computer skills, like knowing how to work with spreadsheets or manage an email list, that could land them a higher-paying job. Others would benefit from learning industry-specific software that could make them more appealing to employers. From the basic to the advanced, here are five computer skills too many of today’s workers lack.

1. Excel, Word, and Powerpoint

computer skills class

Laid-off workers attend a Microsoft Word class | John Moore/Getty Images

Being able to create a presentation, do a mail merge, or use basic spreadsheet formulas may not be flashy skills. But knowing how to use software like Microsoft Office is virtually essential if you want to land a job in any office. Sixty-seven percent of “middle-skill” jobs, such as administrative assistant or store manager, require proficiency in Word or Excel. Plus, positions requiring those skills pay 13% more than those that don’t, according to a report by CapitalOne and Burning Glass Technologies.

Unfortunately, a significant number of job seekers may not have those skills. Older workers may have previously held jobs where computer literacy wasn’t required. Younger workers may be tech-savvy in other ways but not be adept at basic office skills. A 2015 Change the Equation study found 60% of millennials couldn’t sort or search for data in a spreadsheet. To be fair, 70% of workers between the ages of 35 and 64 also struggled with tasks like sorting email responses and working with spreadsheet.

digital native tech savvy

Change the Equation

“[T]echnological illiteracy, much less technophobia, is no longer a sustainable option for the modern worker … entire sectors of the U.S. economy have no place for workers who do not at least have the basic digital skills to undertake tasks like word processing and maintaining spreadsheets,” the authors of the CapitalOne report wrote.

2. Industry-specific software

Thirty-four percent of managers said new grads lacked skills in software like Salesforce, CAD, or Quickbooks, Payscale discovered. Often, becoming adept at using that industry-specific software is essential to landing a job and climbing the corporate ladder. For example, familiarity with customer relationship management (CRM) software like Salesforce, Oracle, and SAP has become increasingly important if you want a job in sales or marketing. Middle-skill jobs requiring CRM software knowledge pay more than all other digital middle-skill jobs, the CapitalOne survey found, with an average wage of nearly $29 per hour. Other careers might require familiarity with accounting, supply chain management, enterprise resource planning, or project management software.

3. SEO and SEM

google search

A man looks at the Google search page | EVA HAMBACH/AFP/Getty Images

Seven percent of managers Payscale surveyed said new grads lacked SEO and SEM (search engine marketing) skills. SEO involves optimizing websites to make them more visible to search engines like Google. SEM involves using techniques like pay-per-click to drive traffic to a site. Both have become essential skills for people working in marketing, communications, ecommerce, public relations, and media. SEO and SEM are the two of the most in-demand skills for high-paying marketing jobs, according to the American Marketing Association; they were also among the hottest skills employers were looking for in 2016.

4. Data analysis

Statistical analysis and data mining was the second-most in-demand job skill for 2016, per LinkedIn. Yet 36% of managers Paycale surveyed said recent grads weren’t proficient in data analysis using tools like Excel, Tableau, and Python. Data analysis was the technical skill young grads were most likely to lack, managers said. Knowing how to analyze and interpret the mountain of data at your fingertips is an important skill in many fields, from marketing to sales to healthcare.

5. Coding and programming

two girls learning to code

Two girls learn how to code at an Apple Store workshop | Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Tech employers are struggling with a skills gap. They have jobs for people with higher-level tech skills, like software engineering and web development, but not enough qualified candidates to fill them, according to a 2016 report from Dice. People who know JavaScript, C#, Python, HTML5, and CSS are in particularly high demand, per the report. Yet even though knowing a programming language like Scala can boost your pay by 22%, Payscale found, 12% of managers say new grads aren’t up to snuff when it comes to programming and coding.

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