From Exasperation to Aspiration: Digital Inclusion Fellowship Voices

In May 2015, NTEN and Google Fiber launched the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a new national program investing in local communities and nonprofit organizations to address the digital divide. Sixteen Fellows are working this year on projects that include setting up basic computer skills courses, increasing home Internet usage, and volunteer recruitment and training. Leslie Scott shares her recent work as a Fellow in Kansas City, working for Full Employment Council.

Hour of CodeDigital literacy is an absolute must for anyone seeking employment in today’s job market. Regardless of the type of job, it is likely that a person will need to apply for it online, and computer skills are listed as a requirement in more job postings than ever. Since I began my work as a Digital Inclusion Fellow at the Full Employment Council, I have personally witnessed the panic and stress experienced by those who live in the digital divide. One experience in particular I’ll never forget.

As an American Job Center, we serve the unemployed and underemployed in our region. Many people have reached the point of desperation when they walk through our doors and are facing overdue bills and other serious financial hardships. For some, the situation is especially dire.

A Rabbit Hole of a Link

Shortly after my fellowship began, an exasperated woman noticed me walking past our rows of computers provided to job seekers and called me over. Clearly frustrated, she proceeded to frantically explain that she was trying to apply for a job as a room attendant at an area hotel but didn’t understand where a link she had clicked had taken her.

Because of the volume of people using the computers, users are asked to limit their use to one hour and are held to that time limit by a PIN system that displays the remaining time at the top of the screen. At this point, the woman’s struggle had taken about 45 minutes of her allotted hour. Time running out on the computer was only one of her worries, though, as we could have easily extended her time for as long as she needed to finish her task. She had gotten a ride to the center and was afraid the person was going to get tired of waiting on her and leave her stranded. Faced with that prospect, she decided to abandon her job application, even though I had offered to help her complete it. Despite her best efforts, she was going to leave no better off than when she came in.

Moving Along the Technology Continuum

We recognize that this experience is all too common. Our goal is to eliminate the stress of being left behind in this digital age by ensuring everyone has, at a minimum, the basic knowledge they need to successfully navigate the job search process today. That is why we offer workshops to help people learn how to do online job searches, create or update their résumé, and learn the basics of using a computer. As a Digital Inclusion Fellow, I am helping my organization improve and promote these current computer-related workshop offerings to make sure everyone who visits our centers is aware they don’t have to struggle needlessly.

But we are not content to stop there. We have implemented a survey to gather feedback on what other topics our members want to learn about. Based on those results, I have been working to expand the types of workshops we offer to help those we serve understand the myriad ways that computers and the Internet can make their lives easier, such as staying safe online and using apps to manage their money.

In addition, we are working to move people along the technology continuum to spark their interest in training for high-demand technology careers by introducing our members to coding and providing other online training opportunities to prepare them for certification tests that will quickly qualify them for jobs in the tech sector. In this way, we also hope to expose our members to the possibilities of the Internet as a tool for lifelong learning.

In order to deliver these opportunities to those who most need them, we are thrilled to be opening an additional 10,000-square-foot career center in one of the highest-poverty areas of Kansas City. In recognition of the importance of technology in everyone’s lives, this new location will feature state-of-the-art computer equipment, and lots of it! We’ll have more rooms to add even more workshops and are in the process of identifying community partners who are looking for space to expand their tech-related programming. This will enable us to let our members know of other beneficial programs they can access in a location with which they are already familiar. Building on our successes of 2015, 2016 promises to be a fun year full of new possibilities!

 

Leslie Scott