Employment and Jobs

Recap: #DigitalSkills Twitter Chat

January 26, 2022  • Employer Network Advancing Digital Skills and Equity & UpSkill America

On December 16, 2021, the Employer Network Advancing Digital Skills & Equity—led by Digital US and World Education in partnership with UpSkill America—hosted a Twitter chat on efforts to advance digital resilience and equity. We are pleased to share a brief recap of the discussion, which featured participants from all sectors and regions, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Washington, DC, and more. You can view all tweets from our conversation by clicking here.

How has technology and digitization changed your workplace since the onset of COVID-19?

The onset of the pandemic was a jarring disruption to business as usual. “The #futureofwork arrived early,” noted WorkingNation. But organizations that centered digital skills in their offerings and operations were well suited to weather the change. As our partners at World Education observed, “#DigitalSkills and access were key to uninterrupted learning.” This is particularly true for organizations that work with marginalized groups like immigrants and young people, for whom the challenges and opportunities of digital skills can be uniquely powerful. For our part, we at UpSkill America did our best to make sense of the changes unfolding before us, talking directly to employers to learn how their needs and efforts had evolved in response.

How do you identify the digital skills your company needs?

Eyes & ears open!” said Rachel Riggs. “What #tech is being used? What are employees saying? What requests do IT get? As you assess needs, be just as intentional about gathering ideas for workable solutions from workers.” Hear, hear. The best ideas (and employees) often come from within. In contrast, IYF looks out to the landscape of promising opportunities. “We look across the relevant targeted geography for the companies/industries creating new jobs,” said Eric Couper. “We also analyze job vacancy data & coordinate w/ sector assoc.” Wherever you look, upskilling is a smart investment, including in the moments when our economy seems most uncertain.

How is your organization helping to build the digital skills of workers in your community or company?

This was a popular one! Key to advancing digital skills is ensuring people have the tools needed to grow, and we were thrilled to see so many innovative efforts in the works. The National Fund for Workforce Solutions is partnering with local employers in Baltimore, Dallas, Louisville, Syracuse, and Wichita, while Generation USA is working with Verizon to upskill half a million people by 2030. New York’s Hot Bread Kitchen uses Google Suite to offer free digital skills training to immigrants and women of color. The Literacy Council of Northern Virginia provides laptops and mobile learning solutions to participants, lowering the barriers to participation. The Center for Workforce Inclusion is testing an apprenticeship-style model that pays older workers to learn while supporting to small businesses. And Building Skills Partnership is helping janitors understand their children’s shift to distance learning, supporting families, schools, and communities all at once. Meanwhile, our partners at World Education launched a free library of educational materials, as well as the Digital Navigator Playbook to address the digital divide at scale.

What hiring practices are you using to find talent with digital skills equitably?

Digital skills are an equity issue, and building an equitable workplace means ensuring that all workers have access to those opportunities. But such efforts are easier said than done. IYF’s Eric Couper cites the example of South Africa’s WeThinkCode_, “which focuses on aptitude and potential, not existing skills.” And WorkingNation shared profiles of “learn-and-earn” programs for historically underrepresented groups, including Multiverse, Marcy Lab School, Ada Developers Academy, and Code2College.

What steps are you taking to ensure workers can participate in and succeed in developing their digital skills?

Another jam-packed question! Participants expressed a range of ideas to support people on their digital skills journey. Building Skills Partnership delivered 110 laptops in 2021, helping to close the digital divide for immigrants and their families. The Literacy Council of Northern Virginia bolstered its training through flexible scheduling, individualized attention, project-based learning, and bilingual tech support. World Education and Jobs for the Future launched DRAW, a national initiative to make digital skills development more effective and accessible. Healthcare employers in Syracuse upskilled staff to keep pace with technology. The Century Foundation’s Andrew Stettner praised the value of upskilling for companies, especially in manufacturing. And Dan McCabe highlighted the importance of participant input in program design.

How are you creating advancement pathways for workers to move up in their careers based on digital skills development?

Upskilling, including digital skills development, can help workers pursue the opportunities that are best aligned to their interests and goals. Alison Ascher Webber cites the work of the Employer Network Advancing Digital Skills & Equity, a group of forward-thinking businesses “strategizing together on creating equitable pathways, even to new industries.” And she points to World Education’s Crowded Learning platform, which will share “open, adaptable assessments and badging content” to validate digital skills. Beyond simply expanding opportunities for employment, however, digital skills training can give learners the knowledge to navigate foundational experiences in work and life. Business Skills Partnership, for example, describes the impact of “Watching BSP participants learn how to send their first email, understand how to compute work orders, check their bank accounts, and read their kids’ report cards.”


Thanks to everyone who took part in this enlightening exchange. For more information about the Employer Network Advancing Digital Skills and Equity, visit our website or contact Jaime Fall (Director, UpSkill America) at jaime.fall@aspeninstitute.org.

And let’s keep the conversation going! Check out this handy Twitter list compiled by IYF’s Eric Couper, and keep sharing new insights and efforts using the hashtag #digitalskills. Until next time ?