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Coursera Global Skills Report 2021 Finds US Behind in Digital Skills, Ranked 29th Globally

Workers can reskill for high-demand entry-level digital jobs in as little as 35 hours

The digital skills gap in the United States worsened during the pandemic, including disparities persisting by region and gender, according to Coursera’s latest Global Skills Report. The study draws on performance data since the pandemic's onset from more than 77 million learners on the platform to benchmark skills proficiency across business, technology, and data science for over 100 countries. For the first time, the Global Skills Report also reveals the top skills needed for high-demand entry-level jobs, including the learning hours required to develop them.

The pandemic displaced millions of workers, with approximately 41% of unemployed people in the US out of work for six months or longer. However, 97 million new digital jobs are still expected globally by 2025. McKinsey estimates 4.9 million low-wage US workers may need to transition into higher-wage roles and develop new skills to remain employed in the new digital economy.

“Access to a variety of job-relevant credentials, including a path to entry-level digital jobs, will be key to reskilling at scale and accelerating economic recovery,” said Jeff Maggioncalda, Coursera CEO. “This report helps governments and employers assess skill gaps in their workforce, identify roles that can be filled with diverse, non-traditional candidates, and details the specific skills that are needed for these roles."

Key US insights from the report include:

  • Despite the rapid rate of digital transformation, US digital skills proficiency falls behind that of many countries in Europe and Asia. Ninety-one percent of US businesses accelerated their digitization plans in 2020, but skills among the workforce have not transformed at the same pace. The US ranks 29th globally, trailing behind leaders Switzerland (#1) and Luxembourg (#2) in Europe, and Japan (#4) and Singapore (#10) in Asia. Out of over 100 countries, the US ranks 40th in business, 35th in data science, and 30th in technology skills.
  • Regional divides persist. Ranking US regions as though they were countries, digital skills proficiency among learners in the South falls in the bottom half of all countries globally, compared to the West, which ranks in the top 10%. More than half (55%) of the jobs in the South are middle-skill positions, which require training beyond high school but not a four-year college degree. However, there are not enough workers in the region trained to fill these jobs. Coursera learner data further highlights the need to invest in skills training to close that gap.
  • Despite an exodus of women from the US labor market, women are pursuing online education at a higher rate than pre-pandemic. Over 1.8 million fewer women were in the workforce in March 2021 compared to February 2020. However, the share of overall Coursera course enrollments in the US from women increased from 42% in 2018-2019 to 55% in 2020. The share of STEM course enrollments – which account for many foundational digital skills – for women grew from 35% over 2018-2019 to 47% in 2020.

Based on the performance data of millions of learners on Coursera globally, the report also reveals the skills and time required to prepare for entry-level roles:

  • Recent graduates and mid-career changers can develop entry-level, digital job skills in as little as 35 to 70 hours (or 1-2 months with 10 learning hours per week). On the other hand, someone with no degree or technology experience can be job-ready in 80 to 240 hours (or 2-6 months with 10 learning hours per week).
  • Learners must invest in both soft and technical skills to stay job-relevant in a rapidly evolving labor market. For example, an entry-level cloud computing role like a Computer Support Specialist requires learning both soft skills like problem solving and organizational development, and technical skills such as security engineering and computer networking. Similarly, entry-level marketing roles require data analysis software and digital marketing skills in addition to soft skills like strategy, creativity, and communication.
  • The most transferable skills across all future jobs are in human skills like problem solving and communication, computer literacy, and career management. Foundational skills like business communication and digital literacy enable workers to participate in increasingly tech-heavy and global work environments. As people change jobs more frequently, job search and career planning skills will be critical to role transitions and sustaining employment.

With 77 million learners, 6,000 institutions, and more than 5,000 courses from the world’s leading universities and industry educators, Coursera has one of the largest data sets for identifying and measuring skill trends. This year’s report is further enriched by pandemic-driven trends, including 30 million new learners who joined the platform in 2020.

How to read the rankings: Over 100 countries are ranked against one another, with percentile rankings attributed to each skill proficiency. A country that shows 100% skills proficiency ranks at the top of the 100+ countries and a country at 0% is at the bottom. Coursera breaks out each group’s percentile rankings into the following four categories based on quartiles:

  • Cutting-edge (76% or above)
  • Competitive (51% - 75%)
  • Emerging (26% - 50%)
  • Lagging (25% or below)

To download the full report, visit


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