eLearning is (still) the best and safest option for closing the digital divide

Graham Hunter, Vice-President of skills certification at CompTIA, on how technology can diversify access and opportunity during the COVID-19 outbreak

In IT, we tend to be deeply focused on threats to the digital world, like hacks, malware, data breaches and denial-of-service (DoS) attacks. As I write this, the world is reeling in untold ways from a virus that is far more lethal than, but comparable to, a digital virus in the speed and complexity of its destruction. If nothing else, COVID-19 has rapidly and exponentially increased our dependency on digital tools in a way that none of us in IT could earnestly have envisioned. Our ways of working, teaching and learning have changed overnight. In 2019, in the wake of widespread global cyber threats and a widening skills gap, it seemed (and I often said) that the need for IT training and workforce development had never been more important. But there is a newfound urgency in our current situation that makes it even more so. In a matter of weeks, a fifth of the UK labour force was furloughed, and many more jobs have been lost outright. Among sectors like nursing and healthcare, IT has held onto a coveted spot as a sector that is still very active – and one that is necessary for the survival of our economy.

The digital transition

Much of the UK workforce has been asked to move their business dealings onto Zoom and other online platforms, from the relative safety of their living rooms and home offices. (Just 12%  worked from home in 2019, in contrast to 44% doing so today.)  Educators and students have largely moved teaching and learning online, putting their digital skills put to the test. Working from home, in addition to requiring a strong internet connection and hardware setup, brings new challenges around cybersecurity and even work-life balance. It’s unclear whether this shift to digital will be temporary, but many are speculating that this will, in fact, be the start of a more permanent change to the way we as a country (and world) think about and do business.

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Online training and skills development can allow people – no matter what their role or organisation –to keep up with the most critical areas of their job or area of study and ensure that they have the right skill-level to participate competently in the (virtual) workforce. Even before COVID-19, the government had established that digital skills were “no longer optional”, with 82% of advertised job openings requiring some level of digital skill. Some 65% of organisations reported a shortage of cybersecurity staff, with more than a third reporting that skilled personnel is a top concern. With the shift to digital being accelerated by our current circumstance, that demand will only grow. IT skills are becoming even more prized. In light of new challenges and the new paradigm of the working world, HR departments must make training and development a focus and give workers the opportunity to improve and retain their knowledge.

The digital divide

Businesses are being asked to do more with less, and to ask the staff they still have to play multiple important roles to fill employment gaps. The IT skills gap will not just disappear because of this pandemic, and in fact, it may widen due to widespread opportunity loss. But businesses can’t afford to lose traction in these times. Every person counts, perhaps more than ever. Online training, whether self- or instructor-led, has always been a powerful tool for upskilling and helping people develop their skills. From instructional ebooks, how-to videos and simulations, all the way to formal courses and certifications, the value of self-paced training and development opportunities can’t be overstated. A certification, for example, keeps you focused through your learning with an objective to show you can prove your knowledge following the course. Job-based, vendor-neutral certifications focused on in-demand roles provide relevancy and clarity to what you’re studying, while helping you find greater purpose in the role.

Workers are already at their computers, and, due to the dramatic challenges facing the economy, they are well aware of the need to keep their skills sharp. In the absence of in-person opportunities, online training and eLearning are far and away the strongest options for keeping workers and students alike engaged, informed, and able to adapt to unfolding circumstances and to risks that are still unknown.


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