An increasingly digitalized global economy requires ever-more digitally skilled workforces for nations to remain productive. Unfortunately, according to a recent report, the U.S. workforce is becoming less digitally savvy than other countries.

The report, published by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), found that roughly 31 percent of employees in the U.S. workforce have either no or limited digital skills, with about one in six employees unable to use email, web search, or other basic online tools. The U.S. ranks just 29th out of 100 countries for the digital acumen of its workforce in business, technology, and data science.

“The United States has led the global digital revolution in (information and communications technology) fields, but across the workforce, the United States is increasingly faltering, which is detrimental to long-term U.S. competitiveness,” Stephen Ezell, the vice president of global innovation policy at ITIF and report author, said in the report summary.

Countries that wish to compete in the global digital economy successfully must cultivate workforces possessing the requisite digital skills so that industries, enterprises, and even individuals can thrive in the digital environment. In the U.S., digital skill requirements have increased for many occupations. The report noted that whereas only 44 percent of U.S. jobs required medium-high digital skill levels in 2002, 70 percent did by 2016.

Digital skills are also critical to higher wages. According to the report, jobs that incorporate higher levels of digital content pay more. In fact, for every 10 percent increase in IT-task intensity, the average U.S. worker’s salary increases four percent.

“The United States is far behind its competitors when it comes to broad workforce digital skills,” Ezell said. “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 recommended that the U.S. increase its number of computer science graduates and concentrate particularly on women, who in 1995 represented 37 percent of U.S. computer scientists but today only represent 24 percent. It also recommended that the U.S. significantly increase its investment in workforce training, including for digital skills; the Federal government now invests less than half as much in such programs as it did 30 years ago.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk State and Local Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.