December 14, 2019

Digital Literacy: The Modern Second Language

This summer, the Code Advocacy Coalition found that 33 states have adopted more rigorous computer science classes into their school curriculums since 2018. These efforts to prepare and improve the technical knowledge and skills of tomorrow’s employees are commendable. Employees that use technology to improve efficiency and the quality of their work are critical to modern businesses. If companies are serious about their long-term growth, they should invest in data-and-digital literacy through professional development. 

In the last 20 years, data-and-digitally-literate employees have become integral to businesses. Most companies interact with software, data, and the internet, regardless of their scale or industry, and the nature of daily tasks is changing. Finances, human resources, and basic administrative tasks are being automated and digitized. More and more consumers discover products and brands through search engines. Online product sales have skyrocketed over the last decade. Technology has been incorporated into every facet of modern commerce, so businesses have to adapt.

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Data Literacy Programs

Even if digital-and-data-related skills like web design, search engine optimization, or database management aren’t a part of the company’s everyday work, employees should be educated on how the technology they use and interact with works. When they understand, they can discuss it intelligently, think creatively about ways to improve their work or how they use the tool, and effectively address problems as they come up.

Some larger companies have already proactively taken steps to improve data-and-digital literacy. For example, Airbnb recently launched its Data University. In the last few years, it’s taught more than 4,000 Airbnb employees how to understand data and make data-informed decisions. 

Facebook recently announced its ‘Community Boost’ initiative to train 1 million people on “essential digital literacy skills” by 2020. While most of the skills focus on the Facebook platform, it also teaches broader concepts, like how to effectively use social media for marketing purposes. 

Social Media Marketing - Digital Literacy

Img Credits: LYFE Marketing

Building Your Company’s Education Program

Both of those programs are steps in the right direction, and it’s important to note that this should be under consideration at companies of all industries and sizes, not just giants in Silicon Valley. Even a small company like mine, with fewer than 20 employees, makes this a priority.

My employees frequently tell me that learning and professional development is important to them. So, over the years, we’ve worked to provide as many opportunities as possible. Last year, we promoted one of our senior developers to Head of Training and Education. Now, he oversees weekly team training sessions on new technologies and techniques. We’re constantly learning and adapting the process, conducting company-wide surveys on what topics employees would like to learn about and how the sessions could be improved. But we’ve made education and growth an integral part of our workplace culture. Taking that step is half the battle for most companies. 

Identify Your Tech Literacy Needs

Before you even begin to tackle big issues like data-and-digital literacy, I recommend taking inventory of your company’s needs. Have a frank internal conversation and identify which technologies are relevant to your company. If you’re marketing your brand or your product online, do you need a robust, complex website? Are you easy to find on search engines? Do you work with a lot of data? 

Once you identify your company’s technological needs, establish how comfortable your employees are with technology, data, and the digital world, and what skills and knowledge your employees would need to increase their efficiency and effectiveness.

Outside Experts

After you’ve figured out the gaps in your employees’ knowledge, take the time to educate them. I recommend bringing in an outside expert to host a lunch-and-learn or a crash course on the appropriate topic. If you’re running a business that sells its products online or wants to increase its local customer base, bring in an SEO consultant. If your company’s productivity would be improved by better, structured, data management, bring in a data architect. The expert can offer quick, informative sessions and give a high-level explanation and essential facts on relevant topics. Most employees don’t need to get into the weeds of SEO or data science, they just need to be able to keep it in mind when they’re doing other work. 

Expert Advice - Digital literacy

At the bare minimum, companies should ensure their employees know the basics of the digital age, including how the internet works, basic internet security, how to identify phishing attempts, and the capabilities of the programs they use on a day-to-day basis. 

These steps are incredibly important. Your employees often don’t know what they don’t know. You can give them a new level of understanding and elevate the way they think about their work if you invest in training and educating them. When you do, your employees will be more creative, strategic thinkers and your business will experience the benefits.

-By Brett Derricott, Founder of Built for Teams 

Read more: The Future of AI: Are Jobs Under Threat?

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Brett Derricott

Brett Derricott is a serial entrepreneur and an active angel investor. He's been recognized by Utah Business Magazine's Forty under 40 for his business acumen. Brett is the founder and CEO of Built for Teams, an HR Intelligence platform that helps business leaders understand, manage, and grow their human capital.

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