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  • Investing in Technology to Close the Digital Divide

    June 01, 2020 | By NACE Staff

    A student works on a school-provided laptop.

    TAGS: technology, best practices, operations, diversity and inclusion, nace insights, coronavirus

    Spotlight for Recruiting Professionals

    Marc Morial

    Marc Morial,
    National Urban League

    Proficiency in digital technology—one of the eight competencies that NACE has identified as critical for college students develop to successfully transition to the workplace—means, in part, that students can leverage existing digital technologies efficiently to solve problems, complete tasks, and accomplish goals.

    However, many students of color who are interns or who are graduating into the workforce are struggling during the coronavirus pandemic because they lack the technology to perform their work in the digital workplace. The digital divide that exists during “normal times” is in danger of widening during the pandemic, when the work environment is increasingly dependent on technology and working from home.

    A 2018 study by the National Urban League (NUL) found that 10.7 percent of black households did not have a computer and 21.4 percent did not have an internet connection. Among Hispanic households, these percentages—7.5 percent did not have a computer and 18.7 percent lacked an internet connection—were less drastic, but no less concerning.

    “For them to overcome the digital divide, these students need hardware and software that is affordable and easily available,” explains Marc Morial, NUL president and CEO.

    “Without this, students of color are at a disadvantage.”

    Morial explains that many young people at schools in poor areas may have a phone, but not a computer to use at home. Phones present their own problems: They may have limited data, it is difficult to read on their smaller screens, and not all webpages are optimized for mobile use.

    Furthermore, even if students do have a computer at home, it may be shared among multiple residents, so allocation of time becomes a daily obstacle.

    “These become barriers and inhibitors, and hinder the ability of students and employees to learn, train, and perform,” Morial notes.

    Many of these divides are tied to economic disparities, Morial notes. NUL’s research bears this out. In that same 2018 report, the average median income of black households was $38,555; for white households, the median income was $63,155.

    The solution, Morial explains, is very simple: Give students the technology that will allow them to succeed.

    “Every school should issue laptops with all of the necessary software downloaded on it for them to connect and for in-class learning,” Morial says.

    “Students need laptops, just as they need textbooks. But they cost money and require an investment. Every state and school district across America has competing priorities and limited funding, and laptops wind up being cast as ‘niceties,’ when, in fact, they are necessities.”

    In addition, during this pandemic, when interns and new hires are working offsite, Morial suggests that employers provide those who do not have access to them with laptops, software, data plans, mobile hotspots, and other technology necessary to perform the functions of their positions.

    Morial stresses the intersection between schools that want to ensure their students—all students—develop the skills necessary to succeed in the workplace and employers that, at the same time, want to boost their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and hire students who have the competencies to succeed on the job.

    “Schools and employers need to meet on this issue to close the digital divide,” he says.  

    “In today’s world, computers are basic necessities, similar to needing shoes to walk outside or tires to drive a car. They are a necessity of life and giving students, interns, and new hires who need it access to technology will strengthen the workforce.”