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Five Digital Literacy Skills and How Businesses Can Assess Them

Published May 11, 2021 by Susan Moore

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations to adopt technological alternatives to in-person meetings, gatherings, and operations in a matter of weeks, rapidly widening the breadth of tasks that required some degree of digital know-how. Even before the pandemic, the pace at which companies and industries were adopting automation technologies and integrating the use of digital productivity tools and platforms into daily tasks was accelerating. It is clear that workers – regardless of their industry, occupation or education level – will need to have a strong degree of digital literacy and/or master an array of digital skills in order to hold, or remain in, jobs in the workforce.

The 2020 UpSkill Houston report “Navigating the Changing Nature of Work” explores how increased digitalization and automation will also heighten the risk of disrupting or shifting job tasks and skill requirements for greater Houston’s so-called “middle-skill” workforce. The report demonstrates that more than half of the region’s middle-skill jobs face above average automation risk, including occupations such as production, construction, repair, and transportation. The report details which middle-skill occupations require high levels of digital skills and which do not. (Sales and office support, technicians and drafters, and IT and computer-related occupations fall on the high side; construction, production, and transportation do not.) Many workers, it says, will need to upskill to acquire the digital and essential skills employers will require to participate in the evolving digital economy.

How can a company or organization make sure its workers have the right skills and how can educational institutions and workforce training providers ensure that they are equipping students with the skills they will need to be successful?

The Markle Foundation’s Rework America Business Network initiative has developed a framework to help employers address five identified baseline employability digital literacy skills without which a jobseeker will “increasingly likely to be ineligible for most modern employment.” 

These skills are:

  • Problem solving using technology; like identifying the correct data for resolving problems;
  • Interaction with computers and mobile devices; like typing or knowing how to search for a file;
  • Data entry and basic tools; like using Microsoft’s Word program or typing an email;
  • Data security and safety; like being able to identify various threats to your computer and your data stored on it; and
  • Data ethics; like having the ability to explain intellectual property and copyright.

Markle adds to these two additional employability skills around occupation-specific tools (like using Adobe Photoshop for one job or 3-D modeling programs for another) and analytics and data manipulation (like how to yield data visualizations).

It also notes three more basic, pre-requisite skills of cultural literacy (like global awareness), mindsets (like having a growth mindset or an improvement mindset), and foundational skills (like literacy, numeracy, and communication).

Markle’s framework helps employers categorize the skills workers need, which will help them communicate those needs to educators and training partners.

  • First, companies and organizations must define what digital literacy means to the organization. Then, they must be able to assess the skills employees have or that future job candidates may have.
  • Next, they should identify roles that are digitizing most quickly or where the biggest gaps in digital skills exist and create an upskilling pilot program.
  • Organizations should work with leaders and managers in the pilot to identify occupation-specific skills that might not be captured in the definition of baseline digital literacy that was established.
  • Next, organizations should select a partner – an upskilling provider, such as a community college or community-based organization, or consulting firm or other support organization– to implement the upskilling program.
  • Finally, organizations should determine key metrics to track, assess and evaluate them before and after training.

By investing the time to define the baseline digital skills needed for occupations within their organizations and by working with partners to upskill their workforce, greater Houston’s employers can help ensure that the regional economy remains globally competitive well into the 21st century and that residents have the ability to develop relevant skills that increase their economic opportunity and mobility.

The UpSkill Houston initiative helps employers and their talent acquisition teams address skills gaps by building talent pipelines for occupations that require less than a four-year college degree and by partnering with organizations working with displaced workers to upskill themselves into new roles. Learn more.