How Digital Literacy Affects the Modern Workforce

As technology becomes more and more commonplace in everyday lives, nowhere does it have more changing impact than on the workforce and individual job requirements. Digital literacy — the power to use digital tools to solve problems, create innovative projects, and enhance communications — is fast becoming an important job skill at all levels of an organization.

Employers need digitally literate employees because modern jobs require digital producers, and computer use is only the beginning. Addressing that skill set gap, 57 percent of executives reinforced the value of soft digital skills in addition to the more common hard skills, and the need for the flexibility that digitally literate employees can offer.

Modern jobs require digital producers

“The ability to create digital content, consume it, act on it, communicate it, share it, find it — all that is tied to patient care,” said Neil Jasani, chief people officer at Christiana Care. “Those skills are emphasized more as one rises up the career ladder.”

Students in culinary school, for example, need to know more than food. Dante Pozzi, a production supervisor for food and nutrition services at Christiana Care, manages software that helps adjust recipes to serve up thousands of meal orders a day. Predictive analytics have to be reviewed for ordering. Does it make sense to order 300 pounds of turkey?

Because the workforce is becoming more and more digitized, employers now are looking for new hires to be digitally literate with the soft skills like collaboration, persuasive communication, critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving, and are offering benefits like the flexibility to accommodate this type of valuable employee. Academic leadership needs to consider improving their students’ digital literacy in order to develop graduates who are competitive in a modern workforce. Jan Rune Holmevik, associate professor in the Department of English and co-director of Clemson University’s Center of Excellence, knows there is digital consumption and digital production.

“We’ve recognized that consumption and production of digital content are two different things. There’s a parallel in the print world — you’re not really literate if all you can do is read. You can get by, but you are not going to be able to participate fully in your community and society unless you can both read and write. The same is true in the digital world,” Jan said.

Computer use is only the beginning

Digital literacy is not to be confused with a digital lifestyle, which refers to passive use of digital platforms like watching videos and scrolling through social media, even playing video games. While these activities are digital, they aren’t what makes a person digitally literate.

A Pew Research Center study found that only 17 percent of adult learners were “confident in their ability to use digital tools to pursue learning.”

New Media Consortium, commissioned by Adobe Systems, released Digital Literacy: An NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief, and outlines three main areas of digital literacy:

Universal literacy: A familiarity with using basic tools (such as office productivity software, image manipulation, cloud-based apps and content, and web content authoring tools).

Creative literacy: Encompasses all aspects of the previous model, adding more challenging technical skills (video production, audio production, animation, programming) for the production of richer content, and also adds digital citizenship and copyright knowledge.

Literacy across disciplines: Diffused across different disciplines in a variety of ways, conducive to each learning context, such as business courses focusing on computer-mediated human interactions.

“Higher education institutions must prepare students for a future where learning new digital tools is an intuitive process,” according to the report. As one respondent stated, “‘Digital literacy will become a required skill in the workplace and all students will need a high degree of digital literacy to firstly obtain employment, keep employment, and obtain promotions.’ The onus is on higher education institutions to equip students with this skill.”

For example, as part of a campus-wide commitment to digital literacy, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill provides students and faculty with access to Adobe Creative Cloud. This effort supports students as multimodal creators and communicators. Students across disciplines have utilized video and audio tools to present information in unique and interesting ways, demonstrating creative thinking and communication skills.

An instructor at Abilene Christian University created a video for her intro to visual media class to help students learn how to use digital books on mobile devices. Utilizing e-books requires a much different approach than attacking a traditional textbook with a highlighter. Not only is this instructor utilizing video as a teaching tool, but she is also teaching students how to change the way they think about something as simple as reading. At more than 83,000 views, the video guides learners through the digital transition.

Clemson University’s Adobe Digital Studio exposes students and faculty to a variety of technologies in a space where they can experiment, problem solve, and create. The university invested in numerous production technologies including a green screen studio with a one-button video recording system, a high-end audio recording station, and access to the full Adobe Creative Cloud. Faculty in the English department, among others, use digital tools and media in creative work. April O’Brien, an English student at Clemson, said, “I was, what was then, a typical ‘English literature person.’ I came to Clemson knowing that I would be stretching myself, but I really wanted to do that. I also knew that learning the software, and developing my ability to work in a digital environment, was going to separate me, ultimately, from the many, many, students entering the job market with me in a few years.”

The NMC report recommends “ample and continuous conversations about digital literacy between all stakeholders. As the digital world continues to advance rapidly and education remains decentralized, it is vital to share and reflect on information.” With the ever-changing workforce requirements, this includes partnerships between educators and industry leaders to better understand the demand for digital literacy.

Hard versus soft skills

As NMC outlined, there are a variety of skills that contribute to digital literacy. Besides the technical skills, digital literacy brings with it a number of soft skills that are increasingly becoming more important in the workplace. In fact, the No. 1 priority of some 4,000 surveyed professionals on LinkedIn was training for soft skills.

LinkedIn mined their data to determine the top soft and hard skills companies need most.

Top 5 soft skills are:

The top 5 hard skills most needed are:

The International Society for Technology in Education has identified attributes of the digitally literate:

Developing digital literacy in conjunction with a chosen discipline has the ability to assist employees and job candidates as they develop the hard and soft skills for which employers are looking. Digital literacy is a direct pathway to becoming a competitive candidate in the modern workforce.

Flexibility, both ways

Another changing aspect in the modern workforce is a desire for flexibility. Technology advancements are loosening the definition of where work happens and when. Placing a premium on work-life balance, emerging talent are looking for flexibility from their employers. For example, consulting firm PWC started allowing new hires to choose their work hours. A study showed that half of all younger recruits emphasized work flexibility and work-life balance as the key factors when choosing a job.

In turn, digitally literate employees who value flexibility in their work are much less likely to feel bound by their job description. Flexible workers are also more willing to take on different tasks. Because of this willingness to change and adapt on the job, flexible employees are typically more valued by employers.

As the workforce is becoming more and more digitized, graduates entering the workforce need to have more than just the hard skills required for their desired profession. In our modern economy, jobs require digital producers, and computer use is only the beginning. Employers need soft and hard digital skills and the flexibility that digitally literate employees can offer. They need employees with soft skills like creativity, collaboration, and effective communication. Those who can demonstrate these skills — whether it’s through an online portfolio, infographics, video presentations, or audio tools — have the greatest potential to become highly valued employees in any organization.

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