Cleveland Digital Vision
Thursday, January 29, 2004
COMPUTER CENTERS AND JOBS: In his weblog, PD technology reporter Chris Seper looks at yesterday's op-ed column headlined "New computer skills -- but no job". (The op-ed isn't online at the PD site, but here it is at the Washington Post.) The author, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, is in favor of widespread computer training for poor and unemployed workers, but cautions that it won't get workers into well-paid skilled jobs in an economy that isn't creating many of those jobs. Chris accurately recaps the column's argument, but then concludes:

Tufekci's opinion is something to consider as Cleveland continues trying to improve the city's computer IQ with the help of local community centers, businesses and other non-profits.

The title of Chris' entry is "Computer Centers: Building Confidence, Not Jobs". But the op-ed doesn't say a word about community technology centers -- only about a local job training program focussed on office applications, email and job search skills. No one who's been through a similar program in Cleveland will be surprised that the Austin trainees ended up in low-end jobs or still unemployed, because there just isn't much of a demand for inexperienced office workers in this still-jobless "recovery".

This point is underlined by the experience of hundreds of Clevelanders who used Workforce Investment Act grants to take A+ computer tech certification training when it was booming in 2001 and 2002 -- only to discover that they had prepared for non-existent opportunities in a slack market for entry-level IT skills. Digital Vision's five-year program speaks directly to this experience when it says: In the near term it will be counterproductive for Cleveland’s workforce training programs to keep recruiting hundreds of new trainees for low-end IT certifications such as A+ and Cisco Networking. Throwing a glut of inexperienced job-seekers into competition for the few such positions now open in the regional economy is unfair to all concerned.

So do we conclude that computer training for thousands of poor and unemployed Clevelanders is a poor investment -- a distraction from the serious business of job creation, or at best, just a "confidence building" exercise?

It should be obvious that the answer is "no", for at least three reasons:

1. Basic computer literacy has become a foundation skill for all kinds of jobs, not just a path to a specific employment cluster. Cleveland's IT industry offers far fewer entry job possibilities than health care, insurance, and various manufacturing areas where computers have become ubiquitous tools. Even upward mobility in low-end retail, hotel and service jobs -- from clerk to supervisor, for example -- often depends on IT competency. So a city full of IT illiterates is a city full of permanent low-wage workers, no matter how fast or slowly the job market expands.

2. Basic computer literacy is a foundation skill for all other kinds of learning. Cleveland has the lowest proportion of adults with college degrees among the fifty biggest U.S. cities, and one of the highest percentages of adults lacking high school diplomas. Nothing good is going to happen to this work force without a whole lot of people going back to school. A computer-literate population will be far better prepared to rise to this challenge.

3. Eventually all the huffing and puffing about entrepreneurship, tech transfer and venture financing may actually result in new employment opportunities. Maybe the regional IT sector will really add 60,000 jobs, like NorTech was saying before the bottom fell out. Maybe bioscience and nanotech firms will get to be significant employers. What's the likelihood of low-income, inner-city residents getting any of those jobs without a foundation of basic technology skills? Just about zero.

Of course basic computer training isn't a short-term ticket to a great job, in Cleveland, Austin, or most other places. (Aside from a few job training outfits, nobody makes that claim -- certainly not CTCs and their supporters.) Training of any kind doesn't create job opportunities where they don't exist. Cleveland desperately needs a real national recovery in the short run, and lots of new enterprise growth in the longer run, to get our people into decently paid employment. But we also need workers to be ready for those opportunities when they arrive... ready to read, write, do math, learn, plan, communicate, collaborate -- and compute.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004
CTCNET DIRECTOR FEATURED AT FIRST "VISIONARIES" SESSION JAN. 26: Kavita Singh, the Executive Director of the national Community Technology Centers Network (CTCNet), will speak at Digital Vision's first "Visionaries" gathering. The session, scheduled for 11 am Monday, January 26 at the Tri-C Metro Campus Theatre, is the first in a series of quarterly get-togethers for DV member organizations and other supporters of Cleveland's community technology movement.

More information is posted on the Digital Vision website.

Monday, January 05, 2004
ANOTHER PD ARTICLE: Chris Seper says: "A new citywide effort to give Clevelanders a technology upgrade represents a fundamental shift by the city's tech community".

This morning's article is mostly about the growing consensus, reflected in the City discussions, that we need to begin teaching to a more unified and more challenging standard like the IC3 and ICDL basic skills certifications. Digital Vision's five year program calls for this change, and we've been working with the School District's Office of Adult Education to develop an IC3 certification project in several of our member centers. (The City of Philadelphia has just begun road-testing a common certification effort based on the competing ICDL program.)

Also in today's article:

Basic computer classes are a springboard, said Cathy Horton, an attorney at Roetzel & Andress' Cleveland office who helped the British government add e-government services and spread technology to citizens.

"This is the beginning of a process that closes the digital divide," said Horton, who is part of Cleveland's new group. "By starting the transfer of basic skills, you can go on to develop additional technology and additional information technology skills."

Cathy, who just returned to Cleveland after almost twenty years in England, knows a lot about e-government and universal access strategies, having had a big hand in the development of UK Online.

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