This feature first appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
According to a study done by Burning Glass Technologies, 82 percent of middle-skill jobs are now digitally intensive. “Middle-skill jobs, defined as those that typically require less than a bachelor’s degree while paying a living wage, comprise 46 percent of overall labor demand.” Knowledge of computers is now basically a necessity in the workplace.
An entry-level worker in today's market would be hard-pressed to find a job that didn’t require her (or him) to use a computer or technical device in some capacity. And with no computer skills, how would you even apply for that job that was listed online — or one that asked for a digital résumé or a LinkedIn profile?
Taking an information technology (IT) class or two will give any student a leg up when they enter the job market — and as they begin working — no matter what field or occupation they’re interested in.
Booting up and beyond
Let’s start off with the basics. Do you know how to turn a computer on? No, seriously. Believe it or not, there are still people in this day and age who are completely computer illiterate. Being a notch above dead in the digital water, of course, isn't going to appeal to anyone enough to get you hired.
Employers are not going to be interested in hiring someone who isn’t a natural with a keyboard and a mouse. You need to know how to type, how to put together a document, format a spreadsheet, make a simple presentation, send an e-mail, download attachments, manage files, put events in an online calendar, use timesaving keyboard shortcuts, and more.
Having a basic knowledge of foundational computer skills is a must. Productivity software skills are the first step to getting into middle-skill jobs. So many require at least basic knowledge, if not complete proficiency. Employers want to know that if they hire you, they’re not going to have to train you on the essentials. And more often than not, the "essentials" are IT skills.
Taking it up a level, let’s talk about the basics of computer hardware and software. You don’t want to be the employee who can’t figure out how to connect to the network printer, or who has to call the IT department every time something goes wrong.
Having a general understanding of the hardware associated with your computer and the software used to run it makes you better able to troubleshoot issues that may come up — before having to turn to an expert. Technology is a lot less frustrating when you understand how it works.
Not only that, but the great thing about IT is that once you learn the basics, everything else starts to make more sense. You can begin to stack the skills you learn on top of each other, which leads to acquiring even more advanced skills that, wherever you end up working, will help you move forward in your career.
Cybersecurity includes you
Earlier this year on May 7, the hacking group DarkSide cracked the computer network of Colonial Pipeline, a major supplier of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel for the entire eastern seaboard of the United States. In response to this breach, Colonial Pipeline temporarily shut down all operations while they set about trying to contain the damage.
As a result of the shutdown, fuel shortages quickly became an issue all over the southeastern United States as people began panic-buying gasoline and Colonial scrambled to find ways to transport the gasoline and fuel needed by consumers and companies. Pipeline operations eventually restarted on May 12 — the shutdown lasted just five days — but the shortages continued well into the next week.
Why bring up the hacking of a fuel distribution company? Because the largest cyberattack on an oil company in the history of the United States was the result of one person not understanding the importance of cybersecurity. DarkSide was able to breach Colonial’s network by using a compromised password they had obtained from a batch of leaked passwords on the dark web.
Password vulnerability has been, is now, and will continue to be, far into the foreseeable future, a critical issue. Eric Goldstein, the executive assistant director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s cyber division, CISA, hopes that this cyberattack will be a wake-up call for companies everywhere.
“All organizations should really sit up and take notice and make urgent investments to make sure that they're protecting their networks against these threats. This time it was a large pipeline company, tomorrow it could be a different company and a different sector. These actors don't discriminate."
Everyone, whether working in IT or not, needs basic cybersecurity awareness. The secretary in a doctor’s office who just scanned your driver’s license and took your credit card information now holds part of the responsibility to keep your data secure. The front desk clerk at your new gym, the teller who opened your new bank account, the loan officer helping you with your mortgage application — the list goes on.
TestOut has recently adopted a new multifactor authentication system to better protect not just company and employee data, but customer and student data as well. All employees are required to go through security training every year. If you use a computer to do your job, which 8 out of 10 people do, then you need to know how to protect yourself, your company, and your clients.
IT skills for your non-IT job
I was recently speaking with my sister-in-law, who works as a quality assurance manager for a large water resource district. To do her job properly, she has to go to the actual water sources to take samples, and then run quality checks on those samples.
She also, however, has to keep track of the data gathered from the samples. She creates spreadsheets to track the data, uses those spreadsheets to make and run reports, then sends those reports on to the state inspectors.
She brought up the fact that she has to be extremely careful with her data, sheets, and reports, making sure each document is locked and secured to prevent any data leaks. She also explained to me how careful she is about making sure every bit of data is correct because she wouldn’t ever want to be blamed for a situation like the environmental disaster that occurred in Flint, Mich.
The very documents, spreadsheets, and reports that my sister-in-law works on could potentially be used in a court case if there were ever an issue. Understanding, inside and out, the software required to do her job is absolutely vital to her continuing employment — and she works in a job role, and for an organization, that few would think to add to any list of "technology jobs."
The more you learn
Steve Jobs once said, “I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think.” Technology is constantly improving and advancing, at a rate that some might say is hard to keep up with. Programming and coding are not new skills, but they're definitely skills that are becoming more and more valuable to understand.
Besides the benefit of actually knowing how to program or code, of being able to use those skills when needed, the actual act of learning to program or code is a huge benefit. When you learn to program, you learn how to solve problems. Programming teaches a very fundamental aspect of problem-solving — thinking about problems on a large scale, breaking them down into smaller, more manageable parts, and then focusing on each piece one at a time.
Similarly, learning to code can help you become self-sufficient and improve your communication and collaboration skills. If you’re able to code, then you don’t have to wait for your project to make it to the top of the list of things for the development team to do — you can get started on it right away. You could design the landing page you need, set up your own task automations, analyze financial data, or understand how specific campaigns are performing.
As projects become more complex, more and more people are part of design and development teams. It’s a lot easier to communicate with product managers, engineers, and designers when you have coding knowledge and a good sense of what’s realistic to expect in terms of timelines, quality, and results.
Even when you come across tasks or tools that don't entirely make sense, you'll be better equipped to learn and thrive. A coworker put it to me this way: "Being software savvy is an IT skill that has helped me be successful in business. Businesses use a lot of software. Whether it’s Microsoft applications, internal communications, customer management, or productivity software, there is always something new to learn.
"When I am presented with new software, I spend time getting to know it inside and out. I establish myself as the guru, and soon everyone knows where to turn for help. In this digital age, those who can quickly adapt as software changes will find themselves on the fast track to career advancement."
Ready for the future
Without a basic understanding of computers and core technical skills, the available job options become limited. When you add certifications that verify your skills, you set yourself apart from the rest. Besides the technical knowledge that a certification can prove, it shows that you have a commitment to working toward a goal and the ability to go through the process of achieving that goal.
The more basic tech skills you are able to list on your résumé, the more attractive you become to pretty much every employer out there, regardless of the industry. You can future-proof your career when you show your employer that you have usable tech skills, are comfortable working with technology, and are have the commitment and ability to adapt to the guaranteed technological changes that are sure to come.