Could Digital Literacy Determine the Course of Your Career?

by Colin van Oosterhout

posted on 03-30-2018

You’re heading to the airport with a colleague. Thanks to a late meeting, you’re off schedule, and you’ve only got an hour to get there, check in, and rush through security.

“There aren’t any taxis!” your coworker exclaims.

Naturally, you pull up the Uber app, hailing a safe, affordable ride in just a matter of seconds.

“No problem. I called an Uber,” you say. “It will be here in six minutes.”

“Uber?” your colleague asks, with a blank face and a look of confusion.

It certainly isn’t unusual for people to be a bit behind the curve with these paradigm-changing technologies, especially if they’ve never had a need for a particular service or live where Uber is not the norm. In Germany, for example, licensing restrictions have kept the ride-sharing app from expanding beyond a few cities.

Still, just as we once used search engines to find information on the web but now just “google” it, more and more we’re “ubering” to school, work, and everywhere in between. And we’re likely to encounter more and more of these scenarios as the years pass. Not only is technology constantly changing and evolving, it’s doing so at a faster speed — and if we want to stay relevant in a marketplace that sometimes seems to move at hyperspeed, we need to keep up.

Today, we’re used to viewing data on a screen, using our mobile phones and tablets to communicate, work, and play. Not long from now we’ll be seeing data on walls, tables, and furniture instead. We’ll be stepping into the documents we use, rather than just viewing them. And tech will play a bigger role in our jobs, our health, personal finance, and our lives than it does even now.

How will we adapt? More importantly, how will we ready ourselves for the coming technological evolution? It will all come down to digital literacy — and how seriously we take it as workers, employers, and society as a whole.

What is digital literacy?

Though knowing your way around a basic PC may have once been considered digital literacy, today it’s a sign you’re lagging behind. The allure of smartphones and laptops have given way to driverless vehicles, warehouse robots, and pilotless delivery drones, and the rate of change just keeps quickening. With highly efficient artificial intelligence (AI) tools and robots poised to affect a whopping 30 percent of UK jobs by the mid-2030s, the global workforce needs to act quickly to prepare for the coming technological evolution. This evolution will likely include things like:

AI assistants and systems that put the power of big data instantly at your fingertips.

All of these potential developments might sound intimidating, but they also represent immense opportunity for individuals and organizations alike. Though technology could automate or eliminate some jobs altogether, it could also make other jobs more effective, more efficient, or just plain more enjoyable for those who do them.

It’s for these reasons that workers are generally positive about upping their digital knowledge. About 94 percent say they’re willing to try AI for mundane tasks, and another 81 percent say they’d dedicate free time to learn new relevant skills — as they should.

Digital literacy as a career (and life) skill

To stay marketable amidst the technological revolution, workers need to take steps to familiarize themselves with new and emerging platforms.

IBM and Ricoh’s cognitive whiteboard is a great example. A powerful tool that makes collaborative meetings not only easier, but also more productive, the whiteboard represents a new wave of in-office, embedded tech. Knowing these technologies, as well as how to best leverage them in the workplace, could open up doors to many opportunities.

Workers also need to be willing to embrace these technologies as they come about. Though there may be learning curves at the outset, many tools will be revolutionary in the end, resulting in smoother workflows and, ultimately, more fulfilled employees. Take Adobe Sign and Adobe Scan, for example. Simple yet powerful tools, they shave hours of manual time and tedium off the contracting process. Just scan a document, sign it, and send it off in seconds. It’s technologies like this that will have small but lasting effects on the overall productivity of the workforce.

Keep in mind that the workforce is changing, too. The number of remote, offsite workers is growing at a rapid pace, and soon we’ll no longer be working in office suites dominated by PCs and filing cabinets — but instead in our homes, using collaborative tech and cross-boundary communication tools to be effective. Recognizing this trend toward more digitally powered workplaces — and embracing it — is the first step to increasing digital literacy at a larger scale.

Ensuring your organization is digitally literate

But digital literacy isn’t just important for individuals looking to move their way up the career ladder. For organizations that want to stand the test of time, particularly as AI and advanced technologies gain steam, fostering digital literacy is downright vital.

Companies need to take it upon themselves to ensure they have access to digitally literate workforces by putting the right resources, educational programs, and tools at their team’s disposal. They need to stay abreast of current and coming trends, and invest in the proper training methods to bring employees up to speed — before the tech has changed and the time has passed. Organizations can even incentivize workers to gain new skills or launch learning initiatives through programs like the Institute of Coding or Adobe’s Digital Marketing Accreditation scheme.

And universities can help, too. By integrating digital education into their curriculum or even encouraging outreach efforts in their student bodies, they can make an impact on digital literacy in the greater population (much like Imperial College’s student-led “What the Tech?” digital training program is doing for the elderly right now).

Don’t fall behind

The pace of technological growth is only going to hasten in the coming years, and being able to adapt will be crucial to success in our increasingly connected economy. We all need to be ready, willing, and excited to change right along with it.

Topics: Future of Work

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