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If you’re like most parents, you wonder whether your child is spending too much time on the computer. But the next time that you’re tempted to tell your child to log out, remember that he’s learning the skills that are vital to his future. It’s no longer enough for students to get an education if they want a great job; they also need the technology know-how that employers have come to expect.
But the question remains: which skills do they really need? Is it important for your student to be able to negotiate Facebook? Does she really need to be sending all of those e-mails? It’s hard to know which computer applications are important to her future, and which ones are distracting her from her math homework.
In order to determine the most essential computer skills for today’s job market, we polled a group of professionals from leading Silicon Valley corporations like Genentech, Hewlett Packard, Cisco, and Oracle. By choosing people from a wide variety of careers, we expected to get a wide variety of answers. Instead, the group was almost unanimous in recommending the following group of skills.
The keyboard is the tool that drives all other technology. There is no more important skill than being able to type well. College classrooms are now filled with students using laptops to take lecture notes; hunt-and-peck typing isn’t fast enough to keep up with today’s world.
Every student should be able to produce work using a program like Microsoft Word. Everyone I polled stressed the importance of being able to properly format a document. Computer scientist Cathy Pearl cited specific skills: “Table of Contents, page numbering, and footnotes.” Also, learn not to depend on spell-check or grammar-check, since “e-mail” and “e-male” both look fine to a computer.
“If you can’t do at least basic Excel, then don’t bother applying,” said Jon Kondo, CEO of Host Analytics. Your student should understand how to keep track of data in a spreadsheet, and be able to use basic formula and graphing functions. One way to get your student started would be to have him keep track of his earnings and expenditures in a spreadsheet.
PowerPoint presentations have become a standard tool for group meetings.Your child should know how to make a compelling presentation. As Mr. Kondo said, “Slides should be visual aids, not just documents that you’ve copied and pasted.” He also stressed the importance of knowing proper grammar, because no technology can replace good writing skills.
E-mail has become essential to communication. Your student should know the etiquette for writing a proper business note. This includes brevity, proper use of “reply all,” and knowing that all e-mail has the potential to be forwarded. Also, said Mr. Kondo, “Know when it’s time to pick up the phone and actually speak to someone.”
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