RALEIGH – A new report finds that 91% of jobs in North Carolina require at least one digital skill but as many as one third of workers lack so-called “foundational” skills to fill those jobs.

The report from the National Skills Coalition and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta points out a “digital skill divide” in the state with similar figures across the US. The gap “disproportionately impacts workers of color, individuals with low incomes, and rural residents, due to historic underinvestment and structural inequities,” the authors report.

They also stress that the lack of skills is far from exclusive to the high tech sector.

Where are the workers?

“The report finds strong demand for digital skills across every industry (dispelling misconceptions that demand exists primarily in the tech sector) and in almost every occupation, including entry-level and frontline positions,” the authors say.

North Carolina’s economy is rapidly becoming more tech focused, meaning more pressure to fill jobs requiring digital skills. The state now ranks fourth nationally for tech occupations, according to a report published by the N.C. Technology Association last week.

North Carolina surges to No. 4 in nation for tech occupations, new report finds

North Carolina faces tech shortage

The lack of qualified workers is, in fact, already clear in the tech sector, however. The N.C. Technology Association, NC TECH, reported more than 31,000 advertised open jobs across the state in December.

“Tech talent is moving around our state, not just in technology companies,” Ted Abernathy, managing director of Economic Leadership, who prepared an in-depth analysis of the state’s workforce for NC TECH, then presented at an annual conference earlier this month.  And he warned that companies are going to have difficulty finding qualified talent,

“We’re going to be struggling for workers,” he said.

Of 50 top companies tracked weekly by WRAL TechWire, 48 are still hiring for open positions – more than 3,000 – despite the slowing economy and persistently high inflation.

Jobs site Indeed, meanwhile, reports 200,000-plus unfilled jobs of all kinds across North Carolina. Of those, many are in the Research Triangle region according to jobs boards cited in the weekly WRAL TechWire Jobs Report.

The Closing the Digital Skill Divide report says public investments such as the $2.75 billion Digital Equity Act, which was part of the bi-partisan infrastructure law passed in 2022, offers opportunities to narrow the gap, putting more people to work and increasing local and state tax revenues.

Digital skills & North Carolina jobs: These industries need more tech-trained workers

Tech skills mean money

The report points out the many financial benefits for workers who acquire digital skills:

  • Workers that qualify for jobs that require even one digital skill can earn an average of 23 percent more than in a job requiring no digital skills. Moving from a job requiring no digital skills to one requiring at least three can increase pay by an average of 45%.
  • For the economy as a whole, these increased earnings could generate more state and federal tax revenue. Depending on the household size and composition, this could range from $1,363 to $2,879 in additional tax revenue per household per year.
  • For businesses, turnover costs (estimated at $25,000 when a worker quits within the first year to over $78,000 after five years) can be averted or delayed by ensuring that workers have upskilling opportunities.

The data should help convince lawmakers to invest in digital skills programs, the authors said.

“State policymakers are asking a lot of questions about how to most effectively target new federal resources to close the digital divide. With this groundbreaking research, any question about whether digital skills are as important as broadband and devices has now been answered,” said Andy Van Kleunen, National Skills Coalition CEO. “This report drives home that access to digital skill building is essential to advancing equity, opportunity, and economic growth.”

Added Sarah Miller, Principal Advisor, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta: “This research shows how fundamental and foundational digital skills have become in the labor market. These are critical skills the workforce needs to have now and into the future. Policymakers and program administrators should view digital skill development as baseline as digital access to ensure economic mobility for the communities and workers they are serving.”