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Keith: Recent business news articles have cited an $1.3T skills gap – the reports say that businesses are losing $1.3T annually because American workers lack the skills needed to fill available jobs and career positions. It’s a staggering number…what are you hearing from the corporate and governmental sectors people that you work with?

Courtney: That figure is probably a conservative estimate. We also have to factor in productivity losses due to miscommunication and conflict related to the sub-optimized use of the social and digital tools available to workers today. We must also consider wasted investments in software and digital systems that are unutilized and underutilized due to inadequate digital literacy. And related to both of these challenges are the costs associated with the inability of organizations to pursue and achieve their goals and objectives because of suboptimal internal processes. For more of my thoughts on this topic, check out How Much Is Digital Illiteracy Costing Your Organization?

To extend a point I made earlier, we have to recognize that in a sense we’re all becoming tech workers, because virtually every job has a digital dimension to it. This digital dimension involves both hardware and software tools and focuses in particular on communication and collaboration. It doesn’t matter if you’re a construction worker, a nurse, a salesperson, a lawyer or a graphic artist. Over time digital technology has and will have an increasingly important role to play in the work we do – and how we do it.

Having five generations in the workforce (from Baby Boomers to Millennials) for the foreseeable future means that we will have a wide range of digital literacy in the workplace, and organizations will have to find a way to address that.

We can’t assume that using technology in our personal lives directly translates into an acceptable level of proficiency in using technology in our professional lives.

Some people will have strong technical skills but lack the “softer” skills associated with using technology appropriately. Others have developed good judgment over time but are functionally illiterate when it comes to technology.

For decades we’ve been employing a Learn it Yourself (LIY) approach to digital literacy, which has been ineffective (at best). Most workers today are much less digitally capable than either they or their organizational leaders are aware of. We need to shift to an approach that puts greater emphasis on formal education and training and structured learning, while at the same time recognizing the value of informal and social learning.

There’s also a great opportunity for cross-mentoring to supplement formal education and training and on-the-job learning. Speaking in broad generational strokes, younger workers can help older workers become more technologically sophisticated, and older workers can help younger workers develop sound judgment, ethics, and etiquette.

In Digital Literacy: Helping Learners Learn in the Digital Era, I share more of my thinking along these lines.

Join us tomorrow for Part 3 of this interview series, when we discuss what it really means to know technology.

Keith Oelrich with looking at camera and smiling

Keith Oelrich


Keith Oelrich joined as CEO in 2012. A pioneer in the K-12 online education market since 2000, Keith has served as CEO of several companies which have collectively provided K-12 online education programs to thousands of districts, tens of thousands of schools and millions of students and their families.

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