How can businesses bridge the digital divide?

Companies have a role in supporting digital equity in the workplace

As the world of business and work continues to change rapidly, there is a stronger emphasis on ensuring that workers, regardless of age or background, can become fully technology literate.

But the recent coining of the term “geriatric millennial” raises an important question – why is there still a digital divide in 2023?

Before going further, it is worth outlining what “digital divide” means. In this context, the digital divide is a knowledge gap between generations and other groups when it comes to using technologies, most notably software.

The question now is simple: how can we close this knowledge gap?

The intergenerational workplace

To continue meeting the needs of an ever-changing market, companies must remain flexible and dynamic. While this will certainly prove challenging at times, a great asset to have is an intergenerational workforce. This would consist of all four main generations: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and, increasingly, Generation Z.

In this setting, workers have diverse perspectives and skill sets that complement each other. For example, younger workers may typically be more technologically adept, but their older counterparts will have more company/industry knowledge and experience.

This is not a hard and fast rule – everyone is different – but it is generally considered the norm. Companies with this setup have a greater capacity to innovate and think creatively than those whose workforce mainly consists of just one generation.

This diversity can also improve a company’s productivity by solving problems more effectively. A workforce spanning multiple generations will offer several solutions to a problem instead of just one or two. The question is: can each employee handle the technology demands the modern business world throws at them, and if not, how do we change that?

Ensuring skills development

The economy is becoming more tech-dependent, and the latest data on technology literacy reveals a clear challenge. According to the UK Government, 11.5 million people lack a full suite of technical skills, and 10% of these possess none whatsoever. Training and development will be necessary to bridge this digital divide, resulting in higher engagement and productivity at work.

Fortunately, the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020 revealed that employers plan to either reskill or upskill 70% of their employees by 2025. This demonstrates employers’ recognition of – and commitment to solving the digital skills deficit.

Building a culture of continuous learning

Companies must invest in technology and learning resources to properly close this gap. But it is not simply an issue of materials; employers must also understand how to communicate this information to employees. It is important to emphasise that older employees are by no means incapable of learning to use technology – knowing how may simply just not come naturally to them.

If inclusive training is available to these employees, there is no reason for the digital divide to exist. However, it is also important to build a culture of continuous learning. Continuous learning puts emphasis on the ongoing acquisition of knowledge and skills rather than “one-off” training sessions. This might seem like the default, but many managers do not implement it despite constant recommendations from HR. In the eyes of the former, there is little incentive to continuously upskill workers – a costly endeavour – who will soon age out of the jobs market anyway.

But the benefits of continuous learning for older workers prove why this attitude is short-sighted. Not only do they process information faster and improve their memories, but the constant training leaves them feeling more confident about using digital software overall. Ultimately, this enables them to use programmes more intuitively and effectively. Furthermore, the newfound confidence will leave these now-IT-proficient workers more motivated to explore the full capabilities of each software application or digital technology.

Inspiring digital adoption

One of the best ways a company can support the continuous learning of its employees is through a Digital Adoption Platform (DAP). These platforms act as an overlay on any piece of software, offering continuously available, interactive and context-sensitive user guides.

DAPs help users navigate the software as they complete tasks, like a GPS in a car. This “learning while doing” approach fosters employee confidence and makes them more self-sufficient – embedded, real-time training means less for HR to organise (and pay for!).

Another key benefit of a DAP is that it is an impartial tool. In other words, it will not assume a certain level of knowledge. Instead, DAPs will support an employee regardless of how digitally literate they are. Again, this is great from an organisational point of view as managers no longer have to organise different training sessions for employees with varying degrees of software competence.

Furthermore, the simplicity of DAPs and their “learn on your own” approach to digital training allows companies to dispel the myth that only “the most tech-savvy” employees can use software. Once this idea has been overcome, employers can focus on the most important task: ensuring each employee can fully exploit a software’s capabilities.

Closing the gap, forever

As technology continues to move at a rapid pace, there is a perception that this digital divide may, in fact, be widening. But, if the right measures are put in place, there is simply no reason for it to exist at all.

The important thing is that these measures go beyond simply providing training for employees considered “digitally unskilled”. All employees, regardless of age or background, need equal access to digital upskilling and learning programmes to help businesses fulfil their digital transformation ambitions and provide a more positive, inclusive employee experience.

Hartmut Hahn is the CEO of Userlane.

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