Are we overestimating our technology IQ?

By Laura Haight

A significant debate has been churning in the U.S. about the “skills gap” -- the difference between the skills a job may require (primarily technical) and the skills potential applicants have.

Some question is if it’s a real issue or whether business leaders are just whining. Some argue that businesses have consolidated job descriptions and now have posts that require not-necessarily compatible skills, such as media relations skills and graphic design falling under a big umbrella of “Marketing” or “Communication”. Others blame universities for not doing their jobs, while universities blame public education for sending students unprepared to do college-level work.

As older workers have left the workforce, whether through layoffs, buyouts or other “right-sizing”, companies have been banking on replacing them with more technically astute millennials. Projections pointed to millennials, a generation weaned on technology, comprising 50 percent of the workforce by 2014.

Technology is not a discipline, it’s a tool. And there is a skills gap in applied technology: not just feeling comfortable with applications and understanding how to work your way around a GUI, but how to use the technology to identify a business issue, deploy a strategy, accomplish a business goal, or evaluate the results.

It is hard to expect staff – even millennials weaned on the Internet – to take on more advanced skills if they don’t have a good grounding in basic knowledge and applied skill sets. So here are a few questions, drawn from a number of different disciplines, that assess a general understanding of some basic applied technology skills. Let’s give it a whack, shall we?

Job descriptions routinely describe Microsoft Office skills as a “basic” requirement for pretty much every job. The question is what constitutes “basic.”

  • In Microsoft Excel, can you write a formula based on an “if, then” equation?
  • In Microsoft PowerPoint, can you set up a master template for your business, controlling the logo, the color palette used, the presentation of the logo in the footer, and other basics? Do you know when to use Hex, RGB and CYMK and what those terms mean?
  • In Microsoft Word, can you take two documents edited by two different people, and using the functions within the application, compare the differences and apply the changes you want to accept?
  • In Outlook, can you convert an email message into a meeting, identify employees in your company you want to invite, determine the best time for all of them, invite them and put the item on a group calendar. (Timed test: this should take under 5 minutes.).

According to Google, 55 percent of businesses don’t have a website. Of those that do, 56 percent of them use Google Analytics to monitor performance and make strategic decisions. Only 11 percent of businesses with a website say they don’t use Google Analytics at all. With such wide adoption, these questions should be easy.

  • Can you determine from your analytics report how many of your visitors are using mobile devices vs. desktops? If yes, what other dimensions would you use to make strategic decisions based on that information.
  • Which of your marketing channels are most effective in driving traffic to your website?
  • What measures do you use to determine what pages or products on your site are most successful in engaging readers?
  • Are your analytics set up to measure conversion rates? Do you have a strategic plan setting levels that you expect to achieve to consider the effort successful?

Big Data is the definition of a buzzword! You hear it everywhere, but are you ready to capitalize on its advantages? Let’s look at a few basic skills that involved “little data” first.

  • Do you know how many of your systems collect and maintain elements of customer information? If there are more than one (hint: probably), how do you bring the databases together?
  • Do you regularly monitor databases for updates, changes, deletions, duplications?
  • Do shadow databases exist in your organization? How are they reconciled with the main DB and have you assessed the risk of allowing them at all?
  • Common databases most companies may have are email marketing and customer relationship management. Do you have an established taxonomy within your company that works with your CRM communications, your email marketing and/or blog to provide customers with customized communications, whether as simple as using their name in mass marketing messages, or sending them a special offer on their birthday, or more complex such as emailing them when you have new information on a subject they have expressed interest in?

Only you can determine how much any of this matters in your business, but these are the sorts of “basic skills” that more advanced technology builds upon. There’s no shame in not knowing; many won’t. But the danger comes in assuming that “everyone knows” something. Honestly assess your team’s tech profile; then you can build on it.