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Leveling up Tech Skills During Covid-19

by Kristen HohmanKim DeRose | Thursday, Aug 27, 2020 | Remote Work Training


The COVID-19 pandemic drove the world indoors. As quarantine kept people behind doors and mass layoffs and furloughs threatened the job stability of many, workers turned to learning new skills to keep their mind and resume sharp. From baking to becoming your own barber, people took adult learning to a whole new level. One popular area of improvement was in technology proficiency.

To learn more about who, why, and how people decided to improve their technology skills during the global pandemic, we surveyed more than 1,000 people from across the country. We delved into what skills they were improving and how they went about learning them. Along the way, we uncovered the important role employers can play in helping employees improve their tech skills. Continue reading to see what technology education looks like in today’s world.

Who Leveled Up Their Tech Skills?

tech skill improvement during covid-19

Overall, 70% of people said their technology skills moderately or greatly improved since COVID-19. When we break this down by generation, we see that millennials, at nearly 3 out of 4, were the most likely to have improved their tech skills with Generation X not far behind. Baby boomers were considerably less likely to report any tech improvement; still, over half said they were more skilled now than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since technology can mean different things to different people, we asked respondents to tell us exactly what area of tech they improved upon. Among all three generations, the greatest improvement was in software. This can include a range of software, from QuickBooks to Microsoft Excel or even Dropbox. Baby boomers put particular emphasis on improving their skills in this area, which may have been driven by feelings that they weren’t as tech savvy as their younger peers at work.

“Continuous learning is the key to remaining relevant with technology. I regularly send articles, training information, seminar invites, etc., to the staff to encourage them to self-study. I have even provided books on critical issues to encourage our staff to read.”

— Avery Palos, CIO, Melco Resorts and Entertainment

The second highest area of improvement for all generations was telecommunications. Not so surprising given that this category includes virtual meeting rooms like Zoom and Skype. Between the start of the pandemic and the end of March 2020, Zoom usage more than quadrupled as more workers became remote.

Perhaps more surprising than increased Zoom proficiency is the rise in respondents’ coding and programming skills. While skills like telecommunications and software proficiency represent more generalized areas of technological experience, one could argue that coding and programming represent a more specific skill or expertise. More than 1 in 5 people said they improved their coding and programming proficiency during the pandemic.

programming languages learned during covid-19

We asked respondents to share which coding and programming languages they improved upon. The most common programming languages were Python, Java, and C++. These are the most in-demand programming languages for developers at top companies, suggesting people may have been using their time in quarantine to increase their job marketability.

The Biggest Motivators for Improving Tech Skills

biggest-motivators for improving tech skills

As it turns out, career development and improving job search prospects were two key motivators for improving tech skills during COVID-19. With the wealth of free online education events that arose during the pandemic and more time at home, boosting your resume may have been easier than ever.

Over half of respondents said career development was a source of motivation. Millennials in particular were driven by a desire for career development, with almost 60% citing this as a reason to level up their tech skills. Gen Xers were the least concerned with career development at less than half, but this was still the most common motivating factor for the generation overall.

“Certificates are beneficial as they demonstrate proficiency and allow employees to add them to their overall resume, which could help with their future employment opportunities.”

— Avery Palos, CIO, Melco Resorts and Entertainment

The younger generations were more likely to say they leveled up their tech skills to improve job search prospects. About 1 in 3 millennials and Gen Xers said improving job search prospects was their biggest motivator compared to less than 1 in 5 baby boomers. This may be attributed to the fact that younger generations were hit hardest by the job losses during the pandemic. Over half of the people under age 45 who were surveyed by Data for Progress said they’d lost their jobs or been put on leave. Since tech savviness is one of the top ways to stand out in a post-coronavirus job world, it makes sense these new job seekers would turn there to improve their prospects.

Baby boomers, who may have fared better in the job cuts during the pandemic, were more strongly motivated by improving their quality of life than they were by improving job search prospects. A stronger motivator than any of these, however, was general personal development.

General personal development was the second most common motivating factor for improving tech skills among all three generations. Boomers and millennials were more likely to claim this as a motivating factor, but even among Generation X, personal development was the second most common driver behind improving their tech skills. General personal development ranked above quality of life improvement and improving communications with friends and family.

How People Are Learning and Improving Tech Skills


How did people learn new tech skills during COVID-19? By and large, they used YouTube. Not only was YouTube the most common resource across all generations and overall, it was also voted the single most valuable resource for learning new tech skills during COVID-19. One in four respondents gave YouTube the MVP award.

Millennials were the most likely to turn to YouTube, but even over half of Gen X and baby boomers turned to the free video-sharing site for their tech education.

Unsurprisingly, the older generations were also more likely than millennials to turn to their own children for guidance, but Generation X was the most likely of all. Around 16% of Gen X respondents turned to their children, compared to 11% of baby boomers and only 8% of millennials. All three generations readily turned to friends and family members, though, with friends (24%) being a more likely resource than family (13%).

“It's ideal to have technical labs to be able to practice the materials being studied. Simulated systems, installs, etc. are all great educators.”

— Avery Palos, CIO, Melco Resorts and Entertainment

Free online courses, at 40%, were also significantly more popular than paid online courses, at 23%. Respondents were more likely to turn to online articles or blogs or friends than they were to shell out money for an online course. This is especially true of baby boomers, who were the least likely generation to pay for an online tech course. Baby boomers also preferred online articles or blogs (41%) to free online courses (38%).

The Price of Technology Education


Among respondents, free resources to learn or improve tech skills were far more popular than paid resources. This finding isn’t too surprising given YouTube was the fan favorite learning platform. Only one-third of respondents used paid resources to improve their skills, spending an average $42 since the global pandemic began. Interestingly, those who had been furloughed or lost their job during COVID-19 were more likely to use paid resources. This is particularly surprising given some online learning platforms were offering furloughed workers free tech training.

“We earmark budget for all employees during the annual planning process. Each employee can have 2-3 courses per year on average. We highly encourage people to take advantage of free vendor training. We will pay for any testing fees for self-study courses assuming they pass the test.”

— Avery Palos, CIO, Melco Resorts and Entertainment

That said, while furloughed employees and those who’d lost their job were the most likely to turn to paid courses, they also spent less than the group as a whole. While respondents spent an average of $42 learning new tech skills during COVID-19, furloughed workers or those who had lost their job spent $31, on average.

The most expensive area of study among all respondents who paid for learning was data analysis or reporting. Respondents spent $57 improving their data analysis or reporting skills. Close behind this in cost was software proficiency, which cost an average of $56. The least expensive areas of study for our respondents were hardware proficiency, technical writing and literacy, and coding and programming languages.

On average, people spent 7.2 hours per week improving their tech skills. Furloughed workers or those who’d lost their job spent a smidge more time at an average at 7.7 hours weekly. Respondents spent the most time learning coding and programming languages each week at 9.5 hours, while improving telecommunication proficiency required the least study time at just over 6 hours.

Learning on the Job

employer provided education

As COVID-19 drove workers into social isolation, employers were encouraged to adapt their workplace learning to the new virtual world. According to our respondents, over half of employers offered technology education opportunities. Despite this, only 36% of respondents whose employers offered these resources used them. Over one-third of respondents (37%) whose employers didn’t offer technology education opportunities reported wishing their employer would do so.

Overall, 44% of people believed their new or improved tech skills will be very or extremely beneficial to their career. Slightly over half thought their new skills will be slightly or moderately beneficial to their careers, while only 2% saw no future career benefit.

Showing the power of employer-provided education opportunities, people who partook in their employer’s technology education opportunities were far more likely than those who didn’t to believe their new skills would be very or extremely beneficial to their careers (59% vs. 34%, respectively).

Technology Advancement for Employees and Employers

When COVID-19 forced people into their homes and left nearly 30 million without jobs, the vast majority took the opportunity to improve their technology skills. They spent over seven hours each week and over $40 per month, on average, improving their skills. Their primary motivation: career development. It’s no wonder that as technology shapes the future of work, people are eager to educate themselves so they can keep up. Employees want to improve their tech skills, and they’d like their employers to help them do it.

At BoxBoat, we help organizations achieve digital transformation so that you and your workers can stay ahead of the ever-shifting business landscape. We know you face unique and challenging technical problems, and, unlike your employees, you can’t always solve these problems by watching YouTube. We can provide self-paced or instructor-led training to your team to help them learn the cloud native skills and technologies necessary for modern organizations.

Methodology and Limitations

We conducted a survey of 1,009 people and asked them about their opinions and experiences with improving or learning new technology skills during COVID-19 (defined as after March 1, 2020).

Forty-two percent of respondents identified as women, roughly 58% identified as men, and less than 1% identified as a gender not listed by our study. Fifty-nine percent of respondents were millennials, 23% were Generation X, 9% were baby boomers, and 9% belonged to other generations of which our sample was too low to identify. Ten percent of respondents indicated they had been furloughed or experienced job loss as a result of COVID-19.

The data included in this study rely on self-report and are subject to selective memory, exaggeration, and telescoping. It is possible that with a greater sample of demographics we may have been able to gather more accurate insight into these groups. Results are based on means alone, and as such, the information on this page is being provided for informational purposes only. Some percentages may not equal 100 due to rounding.

Fair Use Statement

Technology education is essential for employees and employers. If you found this study interesting, we’d love for you to share it. We ask that you do so only for noncommercial reuse and please link back to the original content so the authors can get credit for their hard work.