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Digital Literacy is Part of Job Preparedness

Summary: 
Broadband Internet is a catalyst for job creation and digital literacy and online skills are important for the workers of the 21st century.

Ed. Note: Cross-posted from the NTIA Blog.

Broadband Internet is a catalyst for job creation. In fact, a recent report by McKinsey & Company finds that the Internet has created 2.6 jobs for each job it has eliminated. To take full advantage of the economic opportunities enabled by broadband, however, more Americans need online skills. For instance, broadband service allows a small business owner in rural America to sell her goods to consumers around the world – but online skills are also required.

NTIA’s research shows that nearly one-third of Americans do not use the Internet, leaving them cut off from the online economy. Many are rural Americans, seniors, minorities, people with disabilities, the unemployed, and those with low incomes. The most common reason for not adopting broadband is the perception that it is not needed. But broadband is increasingly needed to find jobs, and 21st century skills are needed to get those jobs.

NTIA is working on several fronts to help bridge this digital divide. Most notably, our Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) has invested in approximately 230 projects to expand broadband access and adoption in communities nationwide. Funded by the Recovery Act, BTOP projects have already delivered more than 8,000 miles of broadband networks and installed or upgraded more than 9,000 workstations at public computer centers.

In addition, many BTOP projects are providing training in digital literacy and other job-preparedness skills. For example, Portland State University developed Learner’s Web, an online system of self-paced learning plans for adults who want to accomplish specific goals, such as earning a GED, preparing for a job, increasing digital literacy, or improving English language skills. The university is partnering with regional organizations to enroll adults in the lessons and to assign them tutors.

Another example is the work of the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) to build computer skills through targeted outreach to communities that lag in broadband adoption. Most recently, CETF and partners in the business community launched Club Digital, a bilingual multimedia initiative to teach Latino families about using broadband.

Communication Service for the Deaf also has a targeted initiative underway, which is helping people who are deaf and hard of hearing to participate more fully in the digital economy. This effort utilizes a mix of discounted broadband service and computer equipment, technical assistance, and training to address barriers to Internet use. As a further job creation benefit, the organization opened a new contact center in Sioux Falls, SD with a staff of approximately 60 people who are either deaf or hard of hearing or proficient in sign language.

NTIA’s efforts go beyond BTOP. This spring, for example, we launched DigitalLiteracy.gov, a website to increase computer and Internet skills in America. Anyone can access free training on a range of topics at different skill levels, such as basic computing and online safety. The site also provides a central location for practitioners, including BTOP grantees, to upload and share course materials.

If you are a stakeholder working to close the digital divide, I hope you will check out DigitalLiteracy.gov.

Anna M. Gomez is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and Deputy Administrator, National Telecommunications and Information Administration