By now, you’ve probably heard “the future of the economy is in STEM” given that everywhere you look in the United States there are more jobs for computer coders than people who can code. And while coding jobs pay high starting salaries, with much room for raises and advancement, the high-tech industry continues to be dominated by white males – making it harder for women and people of color to see themselves in careers like health information management and health information technology.
The digital skills gap and related lack of diversity in high-tech industries are harmful to employers, who can’t find skilled workers and harmful to underrepresented groups who are barred from lucrative careers.
Increasing Access to Computer Literacy
Technology changes fast, and digital skills are needed at all levels of the digital fluency spectrum, from beginner computer training to more advanced computer programming skills.
Since 2016, CanCode Communities, a nonprofit organization I founded and where I serve as CEO, has grown from a local pilot program in Albany, New York, to an organization committed to increasing access to computer literacy for underserved individuals of all ages across New York State and beyond.
In the fall of 2021, we kicked off a partnership with the New York State Office for New Americans (ONA) to expand the NewAmericansCanCode program, which was originally launched in 2020 to ensure low-income immigrants, particularly those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, have access to digital literacy education.
The 10-week program is available to any immigrant living in New York, regardless of status, who meets income eligibility requirements. Students gain basic computer skills at their own pace and learn:
- Microsoft Office
- How to manage calendars and email
- Basic internet safety skills
- Basic computer usage
Digital literacy is essential for building a career in today’s information economy, and by equipping more people – especially women and people of color – with those critical skills, we are enhancing the tech talent pipeline to support the needs of employers.
The Myth of Digital Natives
The many community colleges that CanCode Communities works with are seeing trends that those entering college now have fewer digital skills than a decade ago. While young people can navigate platforms like social media (i.e., Instagram, TikTok) and gaming, few are crossing into higher levels of digital fluency; their digital workplace productivity skills levels have significantly decreased.
One might argue or believe “digital natives” (our younger generations) are not going to need digital skills training as they age, however, they need digital skill building for the jobs of the future.
And even the most advanced technology users (those with the highest level of digital fluency) are in constant exploration and learner mode.
Digital technology, as a medium, is constantly a new frontier for even the most fluent among us due to the constant speed of new technological advancements.
We will never get beyond skimming the surface of true digital equity when the knowledge of creating digital tools is in the hands of so few.