Southern California Job Market : Surviving in the 90’s : Basic Computer Skills Becoming <i> De Rigueur</i> : Familiarity with PCs gives job-seekers an edge for even run-of-the-mill jobs. Software classes are increasingly available.


The message in the “help wanted” listings couldn’t be more clear.

“Macintosh experience preferred,” advises one. “Excellent PC skills a must,” demands another. Even a personnel department posting for Walt Disney Co. calls familiarity with Lotus 1-2-3 and dBase “a plus.”

There’s no use Mickey Mousing around any more; the trend is obvious. Computer skills, even for non-technical, run-of-the-mill office jobs, are rapidly becoming de rigueur.


“The bottom line is that the majority of employers, particularly those who hire college graduates, expect their employees to be familiar with the personal computer and familiar with some of the basic ways it is used on the job,” said Bryna Shore-Fraser, co-author of “Getting a Job in the Computer Age,” published by the National Institute for Work and Learning.

Secretaries don’t just need to know how to type; they must have mastered WordPerfect or some other word-processing program for the personal computer. Accountants, financial analysts and even marketing managers don’t just need business school credentials; they also need to know how to manipulate Lotus 1-2-3, or some other PC spreadsheet program, and perhaps even a database management program, such as dBase. Engineers and architects are often required to be proficient with specialized computer-aided design programs, such as AutoCAD.

Personal computers are far more advanced than the electronic terminals or fancy cash registers that are preprogrammed to do specific tasks at stores, banks or fast-food restaurants. A PC can execute whatever instructions it receives from the software program inserted by the user, and there are thousands of programs available.

The upshot is that workers must be familiar with the basic role a PC can play on the job, as well as any specific software program demanded by the employer. (Don’t be confused; we’re not talking about computer programming skills that an engineer or other technical worker would need. Most employees need only basic user skills such as how to switch on a PC, how a floppy disk works and an understanding of simple computer commands.)

Further, until the PC keyboard is replaced with sophisticated handwriting or speech recognition systems--a development still far into the future--most workers are going to need basic typing skills to operate the PC.

“A computer is like a tool in a toolbox that you pull out when you need it,” said Sally Bowman, director of the Computer Learning Foundation in Palo Alto. “So employees need to know when to apply that tool to a solve a problem. And once they learn one or two software programs, they will find it easier to learn others.”

Shore-Fraser advises job-seekers to learn how computers are used in the career they want to enter, and then to scan the classified ad sections of newspapers to find out which software programs are most often requested in that job field. If nothing else, she counsels, just knowing more about the job you’re seeking can help you impress the interviewer and win the job.

In many cases, employers will train entry-level workers on their in-house, proprietary computer systems. That’s what Security Pacific National Bank offers to its newly hired tellers, said Barbara Robinson, a senior vice president for personnel administration. However, to win the job, applicants must know how to type.

The bank and other large employers also train their workers to use some of the more popular software packages when employees change jobs within the company or when a new program becomes available.

But winning a mid-level job from outside a company often requires a worker to have basic PC skills already.

Temporary agencies usually require minimum computer skills: a basic understanding of word-processing programs for secretaries and spreadsheet training for accountants and other financial workers.

Clerical jobs not requiring PC skills usually pay between $3 and $5 less an hour than those that do, said Steven Cohen, personnel coordinator for Elaine Revell, a West Los Angeles supplier of temporary clerical workers.

The high demand for PC-trained workers has sprouted a new type of vocational training: software classes.

Although community colleges and adult education courses remain the best value for the dollar, privately operated training centers appeal to workers needing quick results. Typically these centers offer one- to three-day classes in a variety of software programs for a fee that can range up to $600 or more.

Often employers pay to send large groups of their workers to these centers or bring an outside trainer into the company for a special seminar.

However, workers themselves have been known to spend a Saturday brushing up on their skills--or acquiring new ones.

Michael Brinda, owner of New Horizons computer training center in Santa Ana, recalls the young woman who had bluffed her way into a secretarial job, assuring her new employer that she was thoroughly proficient in WordPerfect, a word-processing program. “After winning the job, she called the center in panic,” Brinda laughed, “and signed up for the a class the following Saturday.”


* Lotus 1-2-3, spreadsheet for IBM PCs and compatibles, from Lotus Development Corp.

* WordPerfect, word processing for IBM PCs and compatibles, from WordPerfect Corp.

* dBase, data base management for IBM PCs and compatibles, from Ashton-Tate Corp.

* PageMaker, desk top publishing for IBM PCs and compatibles and Macintosh computers, from Aldus Corp.

* Excel, spreadsheet for IBM PCs and compatibles and Macintosh computers, from Microsoft Corp.

* Word, word processing for the Macintosh computer, from Microsoft Corp.