The Office and the Digital Native

by | Jun 13, 2017 | News

In 1985, when I graduated from college and was hired at my first real job, in addition to the math, language arts and business theory skills I had been taught I also knew how to use a typewriter, a calculator and a CRT monitor (monochrome, alphanumeric, dumb terminal). That was the extent of the digital skills I needed to be successful at my job. And by the way, that first job was as a systems product manager for a distributor of electronic computer components. In essence, while I worked in technology, the technology skills I needed to succeed at my job were from the dark ages.

Fast forward to 2017. I still work in the technology sector and everyone I work with creates, manages and consumes digitized information on digital devices. Here’s the interesting part – while develops software, only 40% of the employees actually create, manage or support technology. The rest of us work in operations, sales, marketing, finance, human resources, and management, where we never touch software code or set up computers. Yet in today’s world, to be successful at these non-tech jobs, we must be proficient using word processors, spreadsheet programs, presentation software, email, chat and many specialty software applications on a variety of devices.

Herein lies the $1.3 trillion problem. According to Jeff Fernandez, CEO of cloud-based training platform Grovo, “We’re starting to see signs that we have rushed so much technology into the workplace that workers can’t keep up. This ‘digital skills gap’ – employees not knowing the right technology tool to use for the job or how to properly use technology tools at their disposal – is costing the U.S. economy roughly $1 trillion a year in lost productivity. And this digital skills gap loss could easily grow as the pace of change in workplace technology continues rapidly.”

Many of us think this digital skills gap is linked to STEM-related skills, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Office applications including word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software and email are the life’s blood of almost any business whether it’s a Fortune 500 company or a sole proprietorship. There are now 1.2 billion Microsoft Office users in the world, not to mention the tens of millions on Google Docs and Apple Pages. Despite the ubiquitous nature of office applications, 1 in 3 workers still say they are not proficient in the technology required for their job.

How is this digital skills gap possible? Many people don’t realize that despite children growing up as digital natives, true digital literacy is a learned skill, not an inborn skill. Put a tablet device in the hands of a three-year-old and it won’t take long for them to figure out how to turn it on, use the touch screen and open an app. But mechanical digital skills don’t equate to digital literacy – the ability to effectively use digital devices for the purposes of communication, expression, collaboration, and advocacy. Think of it this way – learning to speak your native language at home doesn’t mean you’ll be an effective communicator in the broader world. Which is why we teach language arts in school!

Here are some ways you can ensure your students are not only digital natives but also digitally proficient:


  • Infuse technology into core curriculum – but only where appropriate, not because it’s cool
  • Start teaching digital literacy early. Young people have a natural interest in technology. While they may not have the dexterity or patience to master keyboarding or create complex spreadsheets in first grade, they can be introduced to technology concepts in relation to letters, word, numbers and even algorithms (creating a set of rules or steps)
  • Teach every student basic technology skills as a requirement, not an elective. Keyboarding, understanding how office applications work, creating effective internet searches and knowing how to be safe online are foundational skills needed to succeed in school as well as life
  • Bring professionals into the classroom to show students how technology is used in their jobs
  • Let the students be the teacher. In some cases, students may have a better grasp on technology than we do. Put that knowledge to work in a guided way by challenging students to research and then share best practices on the use of technology

If you would like to learn more about our Business Application curriculum, click here.

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