Computers are everywhere - in offices, medical facilities, manufacturing companies, stores, etc. The plumber installing your new water heater carries a laptop along with his tools. And the server in your favorite restaurant enters your order into a point-of-sale terminal.

"The computer is the central piece of every job, so workers need to be computer literate," said Brian Mogren, career and placement director at Saint Paul College (

He notes that computer literacy is a big plus when it comes to looking for a job. Job seekers with word-processing skills are able to put together good-looking résumés and cover letters. Those who are Internet savvy can access online resources like job postings and company information. In addition, many employers now require people to complete online applications.

At a minimum, said Mogren, all jobseekers should have basic keyboarding skills, know how to use a word-processor and a spreadsheet, and be able to use e-mail and the Internet.

Learning basic skills

Mogren recommends that people begin by learning keyboarding skills. "If you can type 40-45 words per minute and know how to use the mouse, you'll seem more competent than someone who can only hunt and peck," he said.

Free and low-cost classes in basic skills are offered by public libraries and local community education programs. Students typically learn how to use the keyboard and mouse, create and save documents, and online navigation.

Those who want to improve their typing skills can practice online. Jobseekers can Google "typing speed test" to find sites that allow users to assess their speed and accuracy.

In addition, many local community colleges offer short-term courses in computer literacy. Saint Paul College, for example, offers a variety of daylong classes that range from basic keyboarding to advanced-level word processing.

Focused career preparation

Individuals preparing for careers as administrative assistants in settings such as corporations, government agencies or small businesses may choose to earn a certificate or a two-year degree like those offered by Saint Paul College in business information technology. Along with courses in business procedures, accounting and communications, the program offers extensive work with current software applications, such as Microsoft Word, Excel, Access and PowerPoint. Students also have an opportunity to learn Web applications like Adobe Dreamweaver and Flash.

Those interested in working in a medical setting may want to consider the college's two-year degree in health information technology. In addition to current software applications, students in these programs take courses in computerized health information, health records systems and coding.

Many community and technical colleges around the state offer similar programs.

Despite the tough economy, Mogren said he's receiving an increasing number of requests for people with the knowledge and training to work in business and medical office settings. "At the beginning of 2010, we heard mostly from staffing agencies," he said. "But now we're getting a lot of calls from the employers themselves, and that's always a good sign."