A new study by the The Center of Excellence (COE) in the Greater Sacramento Region of California zooms in on a story that is playing out in just about every economy in every locale, from regional to global. The study documents the demand for both basic and advanced information and communications technologies (ICT) skills in the workplace.
ICT: Advancing Digital Literacy in the Greater Sacramento Region [registration required] surveyed employers about the importance of ICT to productivity and success of their companies. The survey also looked at the influence of ICT skills on hiring, and on future growth and emerging trends in ICT-related employment.
It found that during the next two years 39% of companies in the region expect to add workers with ICT skills, 57% expect to maintain the same number of ICT workers and less than 1% plan to downsize their ICT staffs.
Other findings from the respondents include:
- 85% said that information and communications technologies are important to the productivity of their organizations.
- 75% said that ICT skill sets will grow in importance for their employees.
- 60% said that their organization would value a credential certifying basic ICT user knowledge and skills, also known as digital literacy.
- 66% said that applicants with an ICT digital literacy certificate would have a competitive advantage during the hiring process.
- 40% said they would encourage their current employees to complete an ICT digital literacy certificate training program.
- 57% indicated that their organization would value statewide ICT standards that align employer needs with education and training programs.
The respondents reported that their three greatest challenges and concerns in order of difficulty are:
- Providing ICT training opportunities so current employees are able to grow and advance within the organization.
- Finding and recruiting ICT employees with the appropriate skills.
- Providing training to keep employees up-to-date on current technology.
The authors of the study conclude, somewhat obviously, that “In the information and knowledge economies of the 21st century, all kinds of organizations and individuals increasingly depend on computer, information and communications technologies for productivity, efficiency, connectivity and growth. With this increased dependence and rapidly evolving technology, organizations require all their workers to possess ICT skills.”
They also conclude that ICT skills should be incorporated into K-12 education programs: “High priority should be given to supporting the K-12 education system with ICT learning tools that will prepare students to successfully transition to college or into the global workplace.” They note that even though many schools have some form of ICT-related learning programs, schools need to be better supported with tools and the means to keep their curricula relevant. They need to “continuously monitor new applications and related industry training needs.”
Ed. Note: The COE’s assessment sheds light on the fact that schools and training programs are not keeping pace with the demand for ICT-savvy job candidates. The question is why? Why in the face of a clear consensus on the critical demand for ICT/digital literacy in the workplace are efforts to meet the demand lagging? Why aren’t K-12 schools, vocational schools, colleges and universities, corporate training programs and governmental initiatives being more gung-ho?
There are many reasons, including the rapid growth of ICT, the lack of resources and the pressure of competing priorities. But the biggest reason is a failure to understand the problem. Not the supply-and-demand problem. Not the time-and-money problem. Not the compete-or-die problem. The what-do-we-need-to-supply problem.
For example, the study addresses the question of what employers think they need and comes away with a laundry list of 13 basic ICT/digital literacy requirements. The COE asked the employers to compare those to the six basic elements of digital literacy developed by the California ICT Digital Literacy Leadership Council. Half of the employers reported that the six basic elements adequately capture the ICT user level competencies they seek in their employees; 16% said the list of 13 requirements better reflected the specific user competencies they need; and 33% said their needs are a mixture of the technical competencies from both lists.
As the report understates, the findings suggest “there is some disagreement on the best way to define the elements of digital literacy.”
Instead of a set of hard skills, ICT/digital literacy should be broadly defined as a basic capacity for living in a technology-driven world. It is not 13 skills, or six, or one hundred. Whether you are an employer or employee–or a student or a parent–ICT/digital literacy is knowing what you need to know, knowing how to get it, knowing when to change it and knowing how to be changeable.
The number and types of skills that define ICT/digital literacy are whatever number and types are required in a particular context. The skills might be different for preschoolers or college seniors, but the basic understanding of what it means to be digital applies to all.
What employers–and the society–need most is people who are fully fledged digital citizens with a range of necessary technology-related skills that suits their particular situation. Just as everybody in the workforce does not need a pair of steel-toed work boots, individuals and companies all must wear their own unique digital ensemble.
Trying to come up with a definition that covers all of the necessary skills and attributes for the Digital Age is like asking all the countries of the world to agree on a working definition of freedom.
There are so many stakeholders in so many sectors with so many competing demands and varied perspectives, a solid definition is virtually impossible. That is why, instead of trying to nail down what ICT/digital literacy is, it should be kept comfortably amorphous, with a maximum of flexibility. It should be adaptive rather than proscriptive.
To be understood, addressed and achieved, ICT/digital literacy needs its freedom.