Data processors are the foot soldiers of the Information Age. Data entry is an umbrella phrase that covers jobs such as word processors, typists, data-entry keyers, electronic data processors, keypunch technicians, and transcribers. Data-entry keyers input lists, numbers, and other information. They manipulate and edit existing material and proofread databases for accuracy. In addition to computers, keyers use a machine that converts information into magnetic impulses on tapes and disks.
Data entry is not just for computers anymore. Many data-entry workers work with scanners to scan and save whole documents without having to retype them. Keyers sometimes also serve as the archivists of this data, functioning as librarians who catalog and oversee the wealth of information generated by companies and bureaucracies.
Cautions for Data-Entry Workers
Like the other jobs discussed in this chapter, data-entry work is sedentary, meaning you spend most of the day sitting down. The environment is often noisy due to the machines operating around you. You will have to deal with the usual computer-related problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain, eyestrain, and other injuries caused by repetitive motion. The work also can be quite monotonous, but you must remain sharp and focused. One false keystroke can create pandemonium.
Word processors use word-processing programs like Microsoft Word to type correspondence, prepare reports, mailing labels and envelopes, and create or maintain any other textual material. More experienced word processors work with complex statistical documents.
Speed is of the essence for data-entry workers. More and more employers expect candidates to have some keystroke experience before being hired. In today's world, private-sector employers are less likely to provide on-the-job training. There are Internet tutorials to help bring you up to speed, and courses are taught in high schools and colleges. You can also buy software programs to practice on your home computer. Of course, speed is only half of the equation. The other half is accuracy. An ideal data-entry worker can type rapidly without making mistakes. The key is practice.
On the Job and Employment Outlook
Data entry is often an entry-level position that serves as an entrée into a company or bureaucracy. People often start in data entry and work their way up through secretarial to administrative to management to — who knows — maybe even president of the United States. Government agencies usually have training programs to help workers increase their skills and advance up the ladder. Others are journeymen data-entry professionals, who work hard for the money while pursuing their dreams after hours.
There are about 525,000 data-entry workers in the United States. Most work in offices, but some telecommute from home. One out of five data-entry workers is employed by federal, state, and local government. Data-entry workers employed by the government earn between $27,000 and $29,000.
Data-entry jobs likely will decline over the next few years. Those in the field, or who want to get into the game, are advised to keep their skills honed and to stay up to date on the latest technology. The specter of outsourcing looms over data entry, as it does over many other fields. Many companies are farming out their information processing to workers in foreign lands because they can pay them a fraction of what American workers would expect.