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Why Digital Skills Matter for All Students

• Lowell Matthews

Today is Digital Learning Day (#DLDay). Started in 2012, #DLDay highlights the value of, and need for, digital learning opportunities in classrooms to strengthen student learning experiences. Although the focus of this recognition is generally around using digital learning to enhance and expand traditional skill sets students need to succeed in life, I’d like to use this opportunity tell you why it is essential students learn digital skills just like they learn reading, writing and math.

Ask yourself: ”How long has it been since you last used your computer, smartphone, other electronic device or app? Have you recently manipulated data in a spreadsheet, developed a PowerPoint, set up a new wireless printer? Has a job requirement’s software experience deterred you from applying for that job? Are you struggling with new software at work? You are not alone.

Technology is integrated into every facet of our lives and increasingly into our work. A recent Brookings Institution Study analyzed changes in digital content for 545 occupations (covering 90 percent of the US workforce) from 2002 to 2016 and found that nearly all occupations saw rapid growth in needed digital skills.

Most employers expect their staff to have a minimum of basic digital skills, even more so for individuals newly entering the workforce. Plus, the more advanced digital skills one has, the higher the wages they can expect – including in fields that have long been considered digitally driven. For example, a graphic designer position without HTML skills is advertised at $56,072. With HTML skills, the average advertised salary increases to $73,346, a 31 percent wage premium. Who wouldn’t like to earn 31 percent more?

This incredible statistic was shared by Matt Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass Technologies, at our recent National Summit on Education Reform. See a video of the full session: Supercharging Student Success Through Career Pathways. Another great resource is their Digital Skills in Demand for the Future of Work infographic, with facts and statistics focused on the significance of digital fluency in today’s middle skill jobs:

  • 82 percent of middle-skill jobs require digital skills. These are jobs that typically require an education level short of a four-year degree, such as entry-level positions like bookkeeper, sales representative, computer support specialist, or automotive service technician.
  • Jobs requiring baseline digital skills (such as word processing or spreadsheet skills) pay 17 percent higher wages than non-digital middle-skill jobs.
  • Mastery of digital skills can replace the educational requirements for many occupations and advance individuals upward in their careers.

Want further proof? According to, there are more than 500,000 open computing jobs in the country. These jobs are in every industry, in every state, and are projected to grow at twice the rate of all other jobs.

Momentum is building in states to revitalize or initiate computer science in our schools. For example, Governor Asa Hutchinson is making Arkansas the epicenter of computer science access for all high school students. Emboldened by leaders like Governor Hutchinson, states are investing in computer science teachers, instructional support and access to computer science. It is none too soon.

It can be done. We don’t have to wait until college or the workforce. ExcelinEd can help. Check out our  Putting CTE to Work for Students: A Playbook for State Policymakers to get started.

About the author

Lowell Matthews

Lowell is the Director of College and Career Pathways for ExcelinEd. He previously served as Staff Director for the Florida Legislature’s Senate Committees on Education Pre-K-12 and Higher Education, where he helped create Florida’s industry certification incentive to create a nexus between education and the workforce. Lowell is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Vanderbilt University Law School. He also served in the U.S. Army. He lives in Rochester, MN with his wife and two kids.