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US shows decline in tech and data science skills proficiency

Globally, women learners lag in STEM enrollment, according to a new Coursera report.

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U.S. proficiency in technology and data science skills are declining and lag behind countries in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, according to Coursera’s latest Global Skills Report. However, U.S. learners showed higher proficiency in essential business skills including marketing, leadership and management, and strategy and operations.

By now, it’s well-known that the acceleration of automation and digital transformation, coupled with inflation and global instability, are driving increased demand for digital and human skills needed to thrive in the new economy.

But while not every worker needs to learn to code, every worker needs to be literate in digital skills. Yet, the Coursera report found that three-quarters of workers felt unprepared for jobs in the digital-first economy.

SEE: Hiring kit: Data scientist (TechRepublic Premium)

Also notable is that globally, internet access is not equal. Countries in the lowest 25% of learner performance had average internet access rates of 54%, while those in the highest 25% had access rates of almost 84%.

There is a strong correlation between skills proficiency, GDP and broadband access. Wealthier countries scored higher in overall skills proficiency, matched by those with high levels of internet access.

Rise in women learners – but lagging in STEM enrollment

The survey also found a rise in women learners: 47% now compared to 45% in 2021 and 38% two years ago. Throughout the world, however, women learners lag in STEM enrollment. In the U.S., despite a rise in STEM enrollments from 35% in 2019 to 42% in 2022, women still trail men.

Entry-level or “gateway” certificate course enrollments among women reached 40% in 2021, up significantly from 25% in 2019, according to the report. Certificates such as Google IT Support and Google Data Analytics provide a clear pathway to gain skills needed for high-demand, entry-level digital jobs. These courses require approximately 240 total learning hours, which can be completed in just six months at 10 hours per week.

Additional findings from the Coursera report

The U.S. held steady in its overall skills proficiency ranking — yet it lost meaningful ground in core technology and data science skills. In last year’s report, learners in the U.S. ranked 29th in the world: A position that they maintain this year. However, while proficiency in business skills rose, learners in the U.S. fell behind other high-income countries in a number of key technology and data science skills, including software engineering, cloud computing and mathematics.

U.S. learners in the Northeast, upper Midwest and along the Pacific had the highest skills proficiency in business, while those in the South lagged behind. Three midwestern states – Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana – ranked highest in business proficiency throughout the U.S.

Idaho showed the highest levels of technology skills in the country, outpacing tech hubs like California and Massachusetts. Learners in the state also earned a perfect 100% proficiency for mobile development skills. This reflects a growth trend driven by the number of high-tech companies in the state increasing 61% in the last decade.

Learners in the U.S. increased focus on human skills amid rapid workforce changes. Workforce disruption caused by the pandemic and the pace of automation is forcing businesses to quickly adapt. Human skills like resilience, project management, decision making, planning, storytelling and experiments were increasingly popular among U.S. business learners, as organizations worked to navigate change.

The U.S. remains behind the curve in math skills. Proficiency in mathematics among U.S. learners dropped sharply from 56% in 2021 to 40% in 2022. This lags countries throughout Europe including Germany at 81% and the UK at 78% proficiency. Maine, Washington and New Hampshire had the highest levels of math proficiency in the U.S., while Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee finished in the bottom three.

Global trends show learners acquiring both soft and digital skills

The Coursera report also found that more learners in developed countries are acquiring human skills including change management and resilience. Learners in developing countries were more focused on digital skills through courses like supply chain systems and mobile architecture.

SEE: The COVID-19 gender gap: Why women are leaving their jobs and how to get them back to work (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The most popular business and technology skills globally in the last year were leadership and management, probability and statistics, and theoretical computer science. For the second year in a row, Switzerland had the highest-skilled learners followed by Denmark, Indonesia and Belgium.

“The Great Resignation and automation are mandating stronger investments in human capital, as institutions must prioritize developing the high-demand digital and human skills required to build a competitive and equitable workforce,” said Jeff Maggioncalda, Coursera CEO, in a statement. “Our data shows these skills are not equally distributed, and students and low-wage workers need access to flexible, affordable and fast-tracked pathways to entry-level digital jobs that offer a foundation for a stronger and more inclusive economy.”

The Global Skills Report includes data from 100 million learners in more than 100 countries who have used Coursera to develop a new skill during the past year, the company said. The report benchmarks three of the most in-demand skill areas driving employment in the digital economy: Business, technology and data science.

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