About one-third of the U.S. job market is made up of middle-skill jobs, which do not require four-year college degrees. Data indicate that the number of these jobs exceeds the supply of available workers. The skills needed for these jobs include facility with the internet and computers. These digital skills are a pathway to good jobs, but evidence also indicates that many participants in the middle-skill job market lack the skills they need.
Addressing unemployment is as much about adapting workers’ skills to new circumstances as it is about finding jobs.
Bridging workers’ digital-skills gaps can help address larger frictions in the supply of workers for middle-skill jobs in the economy. A new brief, published by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, looks at several examples of job-training initiatives that use broadband internet to help address digital-skills shortfalls for clients. They are modest in scale and locally driven. Several lessons emerge from this examination:
- Partnerships across different institutions can hasten the use of broadband to deliver job-training services.
- By going online, job-training services expand their reach, but they also need resources to meet people face-to-face.
- Local nonprofits have found ways to integrate digital skills into job training. But these organizations face challenges when students do not have broadband at home or when students have difficulty accessing support services to help ease their path to participating in job training.
The role of broadband is evident in two ways.
- As a delivery mechanism: Innovative applications such as virtual reality can help direct people to jobs of interest more quickly while also conveying to trainees important job skills in a virtual yet hands-on way. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the availability on the internet of many digital-skills classes aimed at workforce development. The online nature of training will not obviate the need for face-to-face interaction, but the game-changing nature of the pandemic will likely make more job training accessible on the internet in the future.
- As a wraparound service: Broadband service at home facilitates participation in a job-training programs. To make it easier to attend training, participants benefit from services such as childcare or food subsidies; home broadband can help here, because research shows that home access aids coordination with employers and childcare.
Although some may seek to expand broadband’s role in job training—and the federal role in supporting such initiatives—broadband alone will not be enough. Administrative will is needed to engage in new approaches to job training that encourage widespread participation in digital-skills training for middle-skill jobs. At present, burdensome application requirements for federal support to help people pursue job training discourage potential beneficiaries from applying—and thus getting the training they desire.