Sectors Shift, Demand Digital Skills

Digital skills have been increasingly in demand in the workplace, even prior to COVID-19. Beyond laptops and connectivity, one of our major goals is to advance workers’ digital skills so they can thrive in future-proof careers, earning liveable wages. 

Skill building must be targeted, comprehensive, and recognize the changing demands of market sectors. Here we evaluate the shifts in sectors for middle-wage labor ($30k-$50k), our baseline income goal, to evaluate digital skill needs. Further, we consider the threat COVID-19 poses to those low-wage laborers who are poised to elevate to middle-income positions.

First, there is growing demand for digital skills for middle income workers. 82% of middle-income jobs require digital literacy and usage. This need is trending upward, increasing by 4% since 2015. The Digital Edge Report identifies the benefits of digital literacy as “serving as professional door openers”, “career advancement without advanced education,” and “providing specialized training directly applicable.” 

Digital skills are also more lucrative, paying 17% more than non-digitized counterparts. Across the workforce, digital middle-income jobs make up 38% of all job postings. The sectors most compatible or most likely to be early adopters of digital skills are transportation, construction, and the trades

Regional Sector Changes and Automation:

In 2016, the Allegheny Conference analyzed occupations at risk of automation and their prevalence in the Pittsburgh region. The report highlighted that retail and stock/freight laborers are most at risk of automation.

Given the compounding impact of COVID-19 on the retail industries, so deemed ‘non-essential’ positions are further threatened in 2020. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that as a consequence of coronavirus, 100,000 retail stores will close by 2025. The shift to online shopping favors warehouse and driver jobs over traditional retail workers.

Sector Focus: Retail

Before the COVID crisis, economists forecasted the coming ‘retail apocalypse’ through trends such as increasing bankruptcies of national chains and growth in online shopping. Retail store shutdowns due to COVID further harmed department store and mall retailers. 

As stores begin to reopen in different parts of the country, optimistic theories of eager shoppers making up for months of loss are daring bets. So far, Macy’s has seen sales at reopened stores down 50%, and as of February announced plans to close 125 stores nationwide and lay off 2,000 employees

Who does that impact? As of 2019, the retail sector is primarily made up of cashiers (2,967,870), clerks/order fillers (1,402,230), and salespersons (3,995,840) who make a median wage of $10.84/hr. Only 4% of retail sector workers are part of unions. While 66% of retail workers are white, a greater portion of Black and Latino workers rely on retail positions to support their households. Retail positions often do not require formal education, instead relying on on-the-job training.

As we begin to build curriculum intended on workforce development and improved digital literacy, we anticipate that displaced retail workers will be an important demographic to attract, train, empower, and elevate through digital skills programming. 

Author: Maura Kay, Neighborhood Allies Program Research Associate

Photos from Unsplash commons