By Benson Li
As a pandemic sweeps over the world and is forcing people to stay in their homes, the importance of digital technology grows even more as people are looking for ways to find work to sustain themselves and their families. Here at LNPWI, we are working to find ways to improve access to digital devices for North Philadelphia residents during and after the pandemic. This leads to the importance of digital literacy, defined as “the ability to access technology and the Internet and use those tools to find, evaluate, share and create content.” The mission to ensure that participants and job seekers obtain the necessary skills to traverse the evolving job market will not be easy but once accomplished will be able to produce well-qualified applicants.
Part of the mission to teach participants digital literacy would be to increase participants’ accessibility to devices that can access the internet like computers or laptops. For example, there are numerous computer labs but in order to gain access to them, there are usually obstacles that prevent people from coming. Some of these problems include these places being hard to reach even with the use of public transportation, lacking the ID necessary to sign in, or are only open during standard business hours. One way to fix this problem would be to increase the number of computer labs that are open during alternative hours so that more people can utilize these invaluable resources. Another solution would be to sell extraneous computers or laptops at discounted prices to participants in the program so that they may have access to the internet. LNPWI is working on this by providing refurbished computers from Temple University’s Computer Recycling Center to people who enroll in the program.
The issue of digital literacy goes beyond accessibility, however, because even if many of the participants gained access to these tools they would lack the prerequisite skills and prior knowledge to navigate the internet. So beyond increasing accessibility, it is also crucial that resources be given to teaching job seekers the necessary skills to do important tasks like creating resumes, learning about Microsoft Excel or other requirements that employers seek. However, some of the prevalent problems are job seekers who underestimate the importance of learning about computers, and employers, who often unintentionally, have practices that present a barrier to potential skilled employees. In order to make learning about computers and technology more appealing to job seekers it must seem approachable. One suggestion was to contextualize the digital literacy curriculum by incorporating it into other education and training programs. It is also important for organizations focused on job training to engage with employers by having conversations about the digital divide. Engaging with employers will gain access to their invaluable perspectives on which skills are necessary for the types of employees they are looking for.
As time progresses, it is necessary to realize the importance of teaching digital literacy to job seekers so that they are able to participate in a workforce that is constantly changing and looking for different skills.