Region ups jobs seekers’ digital skills
Solid digital skills are essential in today’s job market.
Toward that end, a free pilot program has launched in Ventura County to train people who have little or no computer acumen.
The Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties Workforce Development boards had their own digital literacy pilot programs last year and anticipate another round of state funding to re-boot the projects later this summer.
The Ventura County Digital Upskilling Initiative Pilot was conceived by Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, who secured $5 million for it in the 2021-22 state budget.
“I think it’s really something you don’t realize — that there’s a lot of folks just left behind completely in technology,” Irwin told the Business Times July 7. “Even turning on a computer.
“And these are people who once they are able to navigate word processing and calendaring spreadsheets, they’re going to be able to get better jobs,” she said.
The program is being overseen by the Economic Development Collaborative, a Camarillo-based business consulting nonprofit which was the grant recipient.
Bruce Stenslie, EDC’s president and chief executive officer, said most of the people who have enrolled in the computer basics program thus far have jobs but are looking to move on to higher-paying jobs once they upgrade their digital skills.
Others are looking for employment, he said.
Stenslie said that in addition to teaching computer basics, the program has two other aspects as well.
One is to teach small businesses and entrepreneurs how to use digital marketing and e-commerce to improve their profitability.
The other is helping information technology professionals to stay current on required certifications as technology continues to evolve.
Stenslie said the program is about “regional competitiveness.”
“We recognize that just about every occupation, every industry sector requires its workers to have more and more basic digital skills,” he said.
Irwin said the idea for the program was hatched while on a trip to Germany with the nonprofit Aspen Institute and speaking with officials about the need to upskill employees’ digital skills, including car factory workers who were going to be losing their jobs because of automation.
A year or so later during the pandemic, she saw that many of Ventura County’s highest-skilled and paid employees were able to work from home.
“But the low-skill workers didn’t necessarily have access to basic computer skills and had to go to work and in some cases into not very safe situations” because of COVID’s contagiousness, she said.
The Ventura County Office of Education manages the basic computer skills program and course implementation.
That program is being taught by the Ventura County Adult Education Consortium at locations county-wide such as schools and community centers.
The non-profit Women’s Economic Ventures, with offices in Camarillo and Santa Barbara, oversees the small business/entrepreneur digital marketing training.
EDC connects the information technology professionals with trainers to prepare them for taking the certification tests, Stenslie said.
The pilot program launched in January and by June had nearly achieved one of its primary goals of training 200 digital novices in computer basics, according to a June 14 EDC memo to Irwin.
In general, the average age of the people who have taken the computer basics course thus far is 56.
Sixty-five information technology professionals had enrolled in certification training, while thirteen small businesses had completed the digital marketing course.
Another goal of the program is to place 100-200 people in higher-paying jobs. As of June, that had yet to begin, according to the memo.
Sylvia Guapo, 65, of Port Hueneme, had zero digital skills when she enrolled in the computer basics program earlier this year.
After completing the course, that was no longer the case.
“It was extremely helpful because as a senior citizen, I really had no idea how to navigate the internet or use email,” said the former teacher’s assistant who wants to start an online jewelry business.
Guapo even got a free laptop, her first one, to take home.
While not solely for job seekers, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties’ digital literacy pilot programs last year focused on those seeking employment.
Luis Servin, executive director of Santa Barbara County’s Workforce Development Board, said the board found that like in Ventura County, a lot of job seekers and the community in general lacked basic computer skills.
“So, that’s what we’re trying to address,” he said.
Through the program, “job seekers are able, for example, to learn how to complete an online application or even how to do virtual interviews, which for the most part they’ve never done before.”
Last year’s program was largely for English-speaking residents in the Santa Maria area, he said. Servin hopes to expand the program this year once the funding comes through.
Dawn Boulanger, director of San Luis Obispo County’s Workforce Development Board, said its digital literacy program has the same goals as the other counties’ initiatives.
“Without basic computer skills, job seekers couldn’t even get in the door,” she said. “They couldn’t even apply for a job because many job applications are now online these days.”
Many digitally illiterate job seekers don’t have email or know how to send attachments or how Zoom works, she said.
“So, it’s how do we prepare people for those types of things,” she said. “We aim to get people into careers.”