There can be few people today who don’t encounter information technology in the workplace. Of course, offices started to transform in the 1980s but today everyone, from shop assistants to bar staff, will use a computing device at some point during the working day. Indeed, with the mobile revolution in full flow, even lorry drivers, onsite construction workers and sole-trader plumbers will find themselves logging on.
Add in the vast amount of technology we use in our private lives – smartphones, tablets, smart TVs – and it can seem that the whole of the country is IT-literate.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Being able to watch Netflix or post on Facebook or Instagram does not demonstrate good user skills.
However, Tom O’Sullivan, deputy chief executive of the Irish Computer Society, said that while some may overestimate their abilities, many people are rightly concerned that they do not have sufficient digital skills.
“It’s not just about perception – though that’s a big part of it. A lot of people when asked do say that they don’t have the skills they’d like,” he said.
O’Sullivan pointed to the EU Commission’s latest Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI). Ireland is in the upper cohort of the overall measure of digital economies, ahead of Portugal, Romania, Bulgaria and even Germany and France, but the news is not all good.
“The DESI report said that more than 50 per cent of the Irish workforce don’t’ have basic digital skills – and that was based on self-reporting, so that tells you something,” he said.
“I reckon that if we actually tested the people who said they did have good digital skills, we’d find out that many don’t.
“Products are built to make you think you can use them without any training – and in fairness you can get started. Anyone can figure out how to type text, but what we’re trying to do is address the issue systematically,” he said.
The answer to this, according to the ICS, is education, specifically the ICDL, recognised as the world’s leading computer skills certification.
ICDL is not a new qualification. In fact, it is a rebranding of the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) – though it is continually expanding into new areas.
“Originally it was the ECDL, but because it’s now operating in over 100 countries it’s standardising as ICDL – the digital skills standard,” said O’Sullivan.
In fact, since the qualification expanded outside the EU it has been known as ICDL, so the name change simply brings it into line with global nomenclature.
Selling the idea of training in user skills has not always been easy, said O’Sullivan. “Competency frameworks are a bit more defined in the professional world than they are in the user world, but even that is changing: now there is a competency framework for all digital skills,” he said.
“It can be difficult to convince people that they need training in software they already use, and companies are [typically] less willing to invest [than in certification for specialist IT professionals].” The problem, then, is that the training is left undone,even though it is required in almost any workplace.
“For any job, from marketing assistant to accounts technician, you should define the skills that are needed, including digital skills, and then train for them,” said O’Sullivan.
The ICS has responded to this by offering the ICDL not only to workplaces, but also to schools.
“Everyone needs digital skills; every job is a digital job. Whether you’re going into third-level education or the workforce, you are going to need [digital skills] and you are disadvantaged if you don’t have them.
“The schools that offer ICDL recognise that,” he said.
The ICDL is taught through an interactive e-learning platform, thus lowering the burden on teachers, mostly to transition-year students but increasingly throughout secondary education.
The course is fully modular and includes core components such as computer and online essentials, as well as teaching specific desktop applications.
And it has evolved to cover more, including social components that help future-proof its graduates.
“We now have modules in things like IT security and information literacy. It’s really about helping people to work online productively and do it in a safe manner where they can protect themselves.
“We’re also looking at supporting the future ways of working,” he said.
This interview originally appeared in the Sunday Business Post by Jason Walsh - 25/08/19