Digital Fluency and the Dignity of Work

Male college student typing on a laptop computer in a common area at college

The speed of the disruption caused by how computers are changing the fundamental way we work can now give any society the opportunity to change their economic status in a single generation.

Computer application simulationThis past summer, I had the privilege to stand on stage at the SkillsUSA Championships and bestow the gold medal to the winner of the Technical Computer Applications competition.  The TCA Competition has students from high schools and postsecondary institutions all over the USA competing to demonstrate who has the most fluency with computer operating systems and applications.

I was invited there because the IC3 Digital Literacy Certification had been integrated into the Technical Computer Applications competition to ensure that all students participating have the baseline foundational skills to be a broad based technologist. All TCA competitors who passed the exams became IC3 Certified as an additional benefit to participating at the National SkillsUSA event.

Technical Computer Applications was one of over 100 different career and technical competitions taking place at the Kentucky Fairgrounds in Louisville that week. SkillsUSA competitions range from computer technology to brick laying to healthcare to diesel mechanics and beyond. It’s an amazing annual event that highlights the skills of some wonderful students.  SkillsUSA winners in some cases went on to compete for their country at the World Skills Competition, which was held this year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The keynote speaker of the event was Mr. Nick Pinchuk, CEO of Snap-On Tools.  Mr. Pinchuk is a master orator and his key message is about the importance and dignity of work.  Snap-On Tools first packaged their auto mechanic tools in the same velvet cloth as that of a surgeon’s tools.  His message is that the work performed by an auto mechanic or an energy mechanic is just as important to keeping the world going around as anyone else’s work. He looked the 6,000 students getting ready to participate in their skills competition and said “You are respected and connected and educated and motivated and dedicated and prepared and skilled! You are going to ensure the future of America. I have confidence in it and so should you.”

It was a highly motivational speech and even though I wasn’t competing myself, it filled me with pride in the abilities of the young students I saw that week.

After the competition was over, I had the chance to spend some free time and visit the Louisville Slugger factory which was nearby.  Louisville Slugger is the most popular manufacturer of baseball bats in the world. A key tool in playing America’s favorite sport, baseball.  If you are not familiar with baseball bats, they are wood and look like cricket bats only rounder.

During the tour of the factory, they showed the historic labor intensive practice of making baseball bats by hand.  A worker would scrape away at a block of wood on a lathe until it became the right shape. After this demonstration, the tour director pulled back a curtain and demonstrated the new tools that are utilized to make bats.  At the flick of a switch, I watched a giant computer driven machine carve a hundred bats in the fraction of the time it used to take to make one. In my head, I heard the voice of Nick Pinchuk crack as he recalled the dignity of work.

This was a demonstration of advanced manufacturing.  A computer driven machine driving levels of productivity that this world has never been seen before.  I thought of my students in the SkillsUSA Technical Computer Applications competition and had the morbid thought that they quite possibly had the skills and abilities to put the people in the other 99 competitions out of work for good.

Now, that’s probably not exactly true, but the reality is that computers are going to continue to disrupt the way all work is accomplished.  Balaji Ganapathy, the Head of Workforce Effectiveness for Tata Consultancy Services recently stated that 80% of all jobs now require some level of computer fluency.

We are on a path where the more we rely on computers, the existence of low-skilled work is going to go away as these activities become more and more automated.  The future of work is in robot herding and data mining.

Computer skills are now just as important as reading and math.  The IC3 Digital Literacy Certification has defined the skills necessary to be ready for this new world.  Defined by the Global Digital Literacy Council and endorsed by the International Society for Technology in Education, the American Council on Education, the National Coalition of Certification Centers and dozens of other governments and authoritative bodies worldwide, it is the only global standard for digital skills.   It has been mapped and utilized within 44 career training pathways as one of the stackable sets of credentials that lead towards jobs that are actively sought by industry.

Work is being redefined. The digital age is causing our world to flatten and the skills that are needed to keep it moving are changing. This is an opportunity that is there for the taking and ICT education needs to be a high priority in order for our society to reap the rewards.


This article was originally published on LinkedIn and was reposted here with permission.


About the Author
Nicholas Haber

Nicholas Haber

Nicholas Haber is an innovative entrepreneur with a mission driven approach towards building communities through digital skills and physical activity. He is a global leader of IC3 certification at Certiport, a Pearson VUE Business. He has also been the president of NE Distance, Inc since 2012. Nicholas created the New England Distance Project, an athlete-in-residence fellowship program for post-collegiate track athletes. Athletes train to represent New England at national and international meets while spending 20 hours per week tutoring, mentoring and coaching local youth in after-school programs.