Don’t Forget the Spreadsheet: Picking Up Job Skills That Pay Off in the Labor Market | Burning Glass Technologies

This week Burning Glass Technologies is at the ASU-GSV Summit, and we’ll be writing about what we learn. Follow us on Twitter @Burning_Glass.

At one level, education is all about acquiring skills, and the discussions at the ASU-GSV Summit keep coming back to that point. Not every skill has a tangible benefit in the job market—but you might be surprised at some of the skills that pay off. Burning Glass research, based on analyzing what employers actually ask for in job postings, has found there are a lot of promising opportunities for the education sector, including both traditional institutions and non-traditional providers.

Soft Skills Count

Even the intangible qualities of a good education, like critical thinking, have value in the job market. One in three skills employers request in job postings is a soft or “foundational” skill. Even in technology careers, one in four job postings request skills like writing, communication, or organizational skills.

Mundane Skills Matter

High-end technology skills get more attention, but basic tech skills can make a big difference to job seekers, particularly in middle-skill roles. For example, nearly eight in 10 (78%) middle-skill job opportunities call for spreadsheet and word processing proficiencies. The world runs on spreadsheets, and programs like Microsoft Excel have become a basic ticket to entry.

Most middle-skill job opportunities require digital literacy. These “digitally intensive” positions are growing 2.5 times faster and pay 18% higher wages on average than jobs that don’t have a digital component. The middle-skill jobs where these digital skills don’t matter are largely concentrated in transportation and construction.

Coding isn’t just for coders anymore

Seven million job openings in 2015 were in occupations which value coding skills. This corresponds to 20% of “career track” jobs, defined as those which pay at least $15/hour, which a major MIT study found was national living wage according to research from MIT.

Jobs requiring coding skills pay $22,000 per year more than jobs that don’t: $84,000 vs $62,000 per year. (This analysis includes only “career track jobs”). But what’s even more intriguing is that half of jobs in the top income quartile (>$57,000 per year) are in occupations which commonly require coding skills from job applicants. That includes five categories where candidates benefit from coding skills: IT workers, Data Analysts, Artists and Designers, Engineers, and Scientists.

With just a few additional skill sets, liberal arts majors can double the jobs available to them

There’s plenty of doomsday discussion around liberal arts education, and most of that discussion operates in black-and-white. But in fact this may not be an either-or choice. The foundational skills developed in liberal arts programs do have job market value. And by picking up a few additional “hard skills,” liberal arts majors can make themselves much more marketable.

Roughly 25% of all entry level jobs requiring a bachelor’s are traditionally open to liberal arts graduates (about 950,000 job postings). By adding one or more of eight skill sets we identified, liberal arts majors can double the entry level jobs open to them (48%) and command a $6,000 salary premium. That includes marketing, graphic design, social media, sales, general business, data analysis and management, computer programming, and IT networking. All of these can be learned with a modest amount of coursework, such as a minor, specialization, internship, or online training.

Overall this means that there’s plenty of opportunity for all kinds of providers. Traditional institutions can address many of these skill issues using minors, concentrations, or other ways of packaging existing course content—something colleges already know how to do. And many of the skill sets are best taught in boot camps, online courses, or other non-traditional settings. The answer to the skills dilemma may not be either-or, but both.