I went home to visit the family over Mother’s Day weekend, and I learned something that upset me. My nephew is finishing his sophomore year of high school. Instead of taking a semester of typing, like his favorite uncle did, he got a B+ in “keyboarding.” “They don’t teach typing any more, Jeff,” my brother told me.

My nephew hunts and pecks! “I go up to 40 words per minute, and my teacher said that’s ‘pretty good,’” he told me. I was and I still am outraged. When I was a sophomore in high school, I learned to touch-type, which means never having to look at the keyboard. My message for IT people this week is straightforward:

We must get involved with our school boards, state governments, and teachers and demand that they make touch-typing a mandatory skill for our kids.It’s no wonder we can’t fill all the open positions in IT—the young people growing up are probably turned off by the fact that our work requires so much typing!

If you can type, you’ll be more successful
Hunting and pecking and two-finger typing might suffice for surfing the Web and composing e-mail messages, but it’s not good enough for my nephew. He has two more years of high school and, hopefully, four years of college to get through. He’s going to have to write lots of papers. He may one day want to follow in his uncle’s footsteps and become an IT person. If he has to hunt and peck, how will he keep up?

If you can type quickly, accurately, and without looking at the keyboard, you’re infinitely more valuable to your employer than someone who has to look at the keys and waste time hunting and pecking. If you can’t type, there’s no way you can compete with someone who can.

I told the subscribers to the e-mail version of View from Ground Zero about my nephew’s class, and I posed this question: Do you agree with me that we’re doing kids a disservice by teaching keyboarding instead of good old-fashioned typing? Apparently I struck a nerve, because I have received over 100 replies since that TechMail went out.
I’ve got news for those of you who think Star Trek-quality voice recognition technology is going to eliminate the need to know how to type—it ain’t happening any time soon. Those applications are getting better all the time, I’ll admit. But even if you “train” an application to understand your speech, you need to know how to type because you still have to edit those documents.
Highlights from the e-mails
Here are some of the highlights from the e-mails I received from subscribers to the View from Ground Zero TechMail. Bruce M. wrote: “Way back when I was in high school (late 50s), I took a ‘fill-in’ class one semester…typing. I took it because it would be ‘easy’ and there were lots of girls in the class. Turns out that this is probably the most valuable class I ever took in high school.

Ruth B. added: “I agree with you. I was a legal secretary for 10 years and touch-typing is always an excellent asset to have. Now that I am working in the IT field, this skill comes in handy. My oldest son (16) was taught to touch-type in middle school, and let me tell you it has saved me from having to type his term papers for him (lol). I believe that if you know how to type well, you can always find a job. Good typists are always in demand.”

From Gerry B.: “It is nothing short of criminal to pass up the opportunity of teaching a new student at his young age. Give ‘em hell, man!”

John F. wrote: “I work in a medium-sized business and type all day long, providing support and recording it in a database. But I work next to a gentleman who fills out support information on a piece of paper in print because he can’t type faster than he can write. This means that his work day is longer (and more stressful) because he has to go back and ‘do it all over’ to get it into the database.”

Kasey had this to say: “Many of my coworkers (sales, not IT) cannot touch-type. They feel that they can do things faster on paper and don’t understand why we have to use the computer for everything. I am trying to automate just about every system possible, and they want to move backwards. Most of this stems from the fact that they can’t type, so of course it is faster for them to do things on paper. I feel that we could have 20 percent higher sales numbers if only everyone in the company would learn to type so that they can take advantage of the new technologies we are implementing.”

Jennifer F. wrote: “I count typing as one of the most useful courses I took in high school. (As I’m typing this e-mail without looking at the keyboard) I say go ahead and call typing class keyboarding class…but PLEASE teach touch-typing. I recently went back to school to pursue my MCSE and one of the requirements was 50-WPM touch-typing. Certainly I can see in the classes that I train now in Word, Excel, etc., lack of typing skill is a real detriment to anyone today.”
Dereck D., senior network engineer, disagreed with me: “I am also an IT professional who uses ‘hunting and pecking and two-finger typing.’ I’m faster than 40 words per minute (approximately 65 and use four fingers). I don’t find it bad to have to look at the keyboard while I’m typing. It helps to formulate the sentences. I’m not a secretary who is retyping something, but I’m thinking as I type. Of course, I have to use spell checking to correct my mistakes, but the structure is developed while I type. Editing occurs after. Be happy—the school could be teaching how to use voice recognition techniques with Via Voice or Naturally Speaking and not teaching ‘keyboarding’ at all.”
Put in your two cents
Now I’d like to put the same question to the rest of the TechRepublic community. Are the schools making a huge mistake if they don’t teach touch-typing? Please post a comment below or drop me a note.
Each Tuesday, Jeff Davis tells it like he sees it from the trenches of the IT battle. And you can get his report from the frontlines delivered straight to your e-mail front door. Subscribe to Jeff’s View from Ground Zero TechMail, and you’ll get a bonus of Jeff’s picks for the best Web stuff—exclusively for our TechMail subscribers.