The Digital Skill Divide

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, February 17, 2023

Weekly Digest

The Digital Skill Divide

 You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of February 13-17, 2023

Closing the Digital Skills Divide

Technology is increasingly at the center of our lives. And as our dependence on the internet and digital communications increases, our workforce must keep up with the evolving skill demand. Despite the high demand for digital skills and the desire for skill-building opportunities among workers, many have not had the opportunity to fully develop such skills.

The digital skill divide is the space between those who have the robust access and support needed to engage in skill-building opportunities and those who do not. As technology evolves, the digital skill divide prevents equal participation and opportunity in all parts of life—including people’s ability to get good jobs and advance in their careers.

While the digital access divide has gotten a lot of attention, the digital skill divide has a much lower profile

Earlier this month, the National Skills Coalition and the Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta shared research on how rapidly evolving technology is impacting the workforce. Looking at 43 million job postings in 2021, the researchers found that the overwhelming majority of jobs in the U.S. labor market now require technology skills. This demand for technology skills stretches across every industry in the U.S., and nearly every occupation, including entry-level and frontline workers. Understanding this digital transformation—and the digital skill divide that is disproportionately affecting workers of color and small businesses—highlights the importance of workers having a baseline of foundational digital skills to succeed in the 21st century.

Here's a quick recap of the findings and recommendations from Closing the Digital Skill Divide: The Payoff for Workers, Business, and the Economy.

Major Findings

The research team for this report analyzed 43 million online job postings published in 2021. Across all ads, there were 15,000 distinct skills. The research team manually coded the top 50 percent of these skills—that is, the 7,500 skills that were most often requested in job ads. Notably, this top 50 percent accounted for 99.99% of job ads. The team coded each skill according to whether it was definitely digital, likely digital, or not digital. This coding formed the basis for the following findings:

  • There is overwhelming demand for digital skills in the labor market, with 92 percent of all job ads requiring definitely digital or likely digital skills. This demand is robust across all industries, and small businesses are just as likely as their larger peers to seek workers with technology skills.
  • Many workers have not had sufficient opportunity to build such skills. Earlier research found that nearly one-third of U.S. workers do not have foundational digital skills, and workers of color fall disproportionately into this category due to structural inequities.
  • Equipping workers with necessary skills requires action by both private employers and public policymakers. Notably, public investments in workforce development and education are especially vital given the unevenness of private investments and the prevalence of digital skill demands among smaller businesses, which depend on publicly-funded workforce and education partners to upskill employees.
  • Closing the digital skill divide has major payoffs for businesses. Prior research has shown that workers value upskilling opportunities and prefer working for employers who offer clear, well-defined pathways to advancement. Because turnover has heavy costs for businesses—with estimates ranging from $25,000 for workers who leave within the first year to over $78,000 for workers who leave after five years, averting or delaying turnover by ensuring that workers have upskilling opportunities can be economically significant.
  • Public investments in closing the digital skill divide can also generate economic benefits for individual workers and the broader economy. People who qualify for jobs that require even one digital skill can earn an average of 23 percent more than those working in jobs requiring no digital skills—an increase of $8,000 per year for an individual worker. These increased earnings could result in more state and federal tax revenue generated by each worker. Depending on the household size and composition, this could range from $1,363 to $2,879 per year.


Despite the high demand for digital skills and the desire for skill building opportunities among workers, many have not had the opportunity to fully develop such skills. Ensuring that public investments are intentionally focused to remedy the digital skill divide and related inequities is vital to U.S. economic success. 

1. A digital skill foundation for all.

All workers need the opportunity to develop broad-based, flexible digital problem-solving skills for current technologies and ongoing technological shifts.

  • Policymakers can support this goal by investing in free or low-cost digital skills training for workers, and ensuring that workforce development and education providers are equipped to provide high-quality upskilling programs.
  • Workforce and education advocates and providers can support this goal by speaking up for digital equity investments that support workers’ goals and aspirations and respond to local businesses’ skill needs.
  • Corporate decisionmakers and influencers can use their platforms to ensure that skills are central to digital divide discussions in the public and policymaking spheres.

2. Ongoing upskilling for every worker in every workplace.

Workers in every industry need the opportunity to develop industry- and occupation-specific digital skills to adapt and advance in their careers.

  • Policymakers can support this goal by investing in industry sector partnerships that can collaborate with community colleges and other training providers to ensure that the talent development process is connected to industry-specific skill needs and jobs.
  • Workforce and education advocates and providers can encourage policymakers to embed digital problem-solving skills as allowable or required activities under existing workforce development, adult education, and higher education policies, as well as digital equity policies.
  • Corporate decisionmakers and influencers can implement policies and practices that support digital upskilling for workers at every level of their organizations. Smaller businesses can participate in regional industry partnerships that support these efforts across small businesses at scale.

3. Rapid reskilling for rapid re-employment.

We need to be ready for sudden disruptions to the labor market or specific industries. Policies should support rapid reskilling so workers can move from one industry to another.

  • Policymakers can reinforce this goal by supporting access to skills for workers who have lost their jobs, including those transitioning to a new industry. This includes ensuring that student financial aid policies match the reality of how digital skills are acquired.
  • Workforce and education advocates and providers can support this goal by sharing their expertise with policymakers on topics such as best practices in closing racial equity gaps in digital skill-building opportunities.
  • Influencers and corporate decisionmakers can educate state and federal policymakers about the skills mismatches they are experiencing and the kinds of technology skills their companies need to be successful.

Digital Skills and the Digital Equity Act

As part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act's Digital Equity Act, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico are currently engaged in writing State Digital Equity Plans. With an overarching goal of universal broadband adoption, key elements of these plans are:

  • an assessment of how the state's digital equity objectives will impact and interact with the state's economic and workforce development goals, plans, and outcomes; and 
  • an implementation strategy that is holistic and addresses the barriers to participation in the digital world, including affordability, devices, digital skills, technical support, and digital navigation. 

Digital equity is fundamentally concerned with promoting full participation in the digital economy and society by all. This research illustrates how investing in digital skill-building can help individual workers increase their incomes, allow businesses to thrive, and create positive economic spillover effects for local, state, and national economies.

National Skills Coalition fights for a national commitment to inclusive, high-quality skills training so that more people have access to a better life, and more local businesses see sustained growth.

The Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta focuses on employment policies and labor market issues that affect low- and moderate-income individuals. It acts as a bridge between research and practice, connecting researchers, businesses, and policymakers with innovative approaches to creating economic opportunity through education and employment.

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events

Feb 19-22—Rural Telecom Industry Meeting & EXPO (NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association)

Feb 21—The Digital Divide’s Impact on Black Communities (FCC)

Feb 21—Your Role in Creating Minnesota's Digital Equity Plan (Minnesota Office of Broadband Development)

Feb 21—Listening Session on Digital Discrimination (FCC)

Feb 22—Internet for All Webinar Series - Broadband Infrastructure Program 1-Year Anniversary Celebration (NTIA)

Feb 23—Meeting of the Communications Equity and Diversity Council (FCC)

Feb 27—FCC Tribal Workshop

Feb 28—Broadband Technical Assistance Listening Session for Technical Assistance Providers (USDA)

Mar 1—Public Meeting on Broadband Funding (Delaware Department of Technology and Information)

Mar 2—Public Meeting on Broadband Funding (Delaware Department of Technology and Information)

Mar 6—State of the Net 2023 (Internet Education Foundation)

Mar 6—Public Meeting on Broadband Funding (Delaware Department of Technology and Information)

Mar 13—California Digital Equity Summit (CENIC)

Mar 15—2023 State of Telecom Policy (Verizon)

Mar 16—March 2023 Open Federal Communications Commission Meeting (FCC)

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org

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