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New study finds US lagging behind in Digital Skills

One-third of working-age Americans possess limited digital skills, including one in six who are unable to use email, web search, or other essential online tools. This is one of many stark findings in a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the leading think tank for science and technology policy.

This report illustrates how the U.S. workforce is lagging in digital skills at a time when there is an acute need for such skills in multiple industries across the economy.

“The United States is far behind its competitors when it comes to broad workforce digital skills,” said Stephen Ezell, Vice President of global innovation policy at ITIF and author of the report.

“The lack of digital skills in the workforce is particularly acute in certain industries, like construction, transportation, and storage industry; health and social work; manufacturing; hospitality; and retail and wholesale industries. This should raise the alarm in Washington as an increasingly digitalized global economy requires ever-more digitally skilled workforces for nations to remain productive.”

The report reviews scholarly literature and compiles economic data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, think tanks, and industry sources to assess the digital skills of U.S. workers versus the requirements of many occupations. The body of evidence ITIF reviewed indicates that the United States is falling behind its peers in the global economy.

For example, Coursera ranks the United States 29th out of 100 countries globally for digital acumen, with America’s business, technology, and data-science skills falling behind countries like Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Japan.

Meanwhile, Brookings has found that 70 percent of U.S. jobs required medium-high digital skill levels in 2016, up from 44 percent in 2002. Digital skills are also critical to higher wages. In fact, for every 10 percent increase in information and communication technology-task intensity, the average U.S. worker’s salary increases 4 percent.

ITIF’s report stresses the need to increase the overall number of computer science graduates and concentrate particularly on women, who represented 37 percent of U.S. computer scientists in 1995, but just 24 percent now.

The report offers eight policy recommendations to broaden the workforce and ultimately strengthen the U.S. economy:

  1. Allow computer science to count toward high school science requirements.
  2. Teach computer science in all high schools.
  3. Double the number of STEM charter schools in the United States.
  4. Establish an incentive program for universities to expand computer science.
  5. Invest in cultivating artificial intelligence talent.
  6. Increase federal investment in workforce training and reskilling programs.
  7. Expand Section 127 Tax Benefits for employer-provided tuition assistance.
  8. Establish a knowledge tax credit that allows firms to take a tax credit for R&D and workforce training expenditures.

“The United States has led the global digital revolution in ICT fields, but across the workforce, the United States is increasingly faltering, which is detrimental to long-term U.S. competitiveness,” said Ezell.

“The United States needs to redouble its efforts here and recommit itself to being a world leader in workforce-level digital skills.”