America’s Computer Literacy Problem

As we announced in this blog post earlier this year, our newest test is called the Computer Literacy and Internet Knowledge test (CLIK). We developed the CLIK because many of our customers  requested a test of general computer literacy.  The CLIK consists of two short simulations in which the test-taker is asked to perform basic tasks (opening a document, copying and pasting, sending an email, doing a Google search, etc.) on a simulated desktop, followed by some multiple choice questions.   The CLIK has quickly become one of our most popular tests, which to me is a sign that employers are definitely seeing the need for a test that measures basic computer skills, rather than specific knowledge of a particular application, like Microsoft Excel of Word.

As with all of our tests, we have monitored the data collected from the CLIK, and we recently did a thorough analysis of item-by-item responses for 20,000 CLIK administrations. The findings were pretty surprising. First of all, 24% of all test-takers received an overall score of “Not Proficient.”  But the more alarming data came from the item-by-item analysis, which showed that some very basic elements of computer literacy were not performed correctly by large numbers of test-takers.  Specifically, 37% of people were unable to retrieve basic information through a Google search, 32% were unable to correctly format and send an email, and 21% were unable to copy and paste a text passage.

Now, we should caution that the sample of people who took the CLIK may not be representative of the general population.   Our customers tend to administer the CLIK for entry level positions for which basic computer proficiency is required, but perhaps cannot be assumed—it would be uncommon, for example, to administer the CLIK when screening for a professional position.  The CLIK tends to be used for positions like customer service reps, medical billers, clerical workers, etc.  Conversely, however, it’s also true that there are many positions for which computer literacy may not be necessary, and one would assume that the applicant pools for these positions might be made up of people with even lower rates of computer literacy.  So although it’s difficult to make any decisive conclusions on the basis of 20,000 test results, it certainly looks like America has a computer literacy problem.  The data we examined confirms what we were hearing from our customers who asked for this kind of test—too many job applicants lack basic computer proficiency.