College and nonprofit help build digital literacy for real estate service workers

The BSP/EVC partnership began in May 2021 with an infectious disease training program for concierges. EVC, a two-year public institution, provided resources and education while BSP acted as an industry conduit, connecting companies and employees, including unionized workers represented by SEIU-USWW, with free training. The class covered topics such as how to prevent COVID-19 and recognize symptoms of the disease, and included information on vaccines and contact tracing. The main goal was to raise awareness about misinformation.

“Working with the Building Skills Partnership aligns with our college’s mission to expand the skills of unmet populations and address equity issues,” says Maniphone Dickerson, Dean of the Business and Labor Development Division. -work at EVC. “People hired as cleaners are primarily ESL learners who have limited access to post-secondary education, tools and opportunities to further their education. Even though these workers are essential employees, there is a disparity in the provision of skills training that provides direct access to educational attainment to increase economic mobility.

The bilingual course was delivered online, where faculty noticed a digital literacy gap among participants. A follow-up survey after the course ended highlighted a need for training in navigation and understanding technology for a traditionally marginalized and underserved community.

READ THE CHECKLIST: Discover ways to bridge the digital literacy gap.

Bridging the Digital Literacy Gap with Students

Although levels of digital literacy may vary, it is essentially a problem of competence and access. Many people lack the hardware, computer, internet access and other digital components needed to benefit from online resources.

“Digital literacy is about being able to navigate a new digital world by fully engaging as a digital citizen,” says Sandoval. “As everything has moved online, it has been really difficult. We have to overcome multiple obstacles.

Working together, BSP and EVC are working to fill this gap by launching a digital literacy certificate. The program is designed for people with no knowledge of technology. The non-credit course will be free for students, who can use EVC’s loan system to rent laptops.

The plan is to offer the certificate in the spring of 2023, although interested students can start now and receive digital badges, representing refresher training. Courses include introduction to Google Apps, getting started with smartphones, and basics of Microsoft Office 365.

“We found that the digital literacy gap was amplified, even using a bilingual platform, because there’s still an element of familiarity with menus and apps,” says Dickerson. “Even if you configure the device for a certain language, some icons may not be culturally relevant.”

READ MORE: Information on reducing the technological knowledge gap in higher education.

By teaching digital literacy, the partnership also provides an opportunity for lifelong learning, upward mobility and the skills needed to live in an increasingly digital world.

“We know the needs and how the industry works, while the college has an immense amount of resources and expertise,” says Sandoval. “When we come together in this effort, we are able to create something that has value not only for the industry, but also for the workers and the community as a whole. That’s the real beauty of this type of partnership.

BSP and EVC agree that the needs of adult learners should always be at the center of the agenda. Teams meet weekly to conduct in-depth case management of each participant in their programs. Dickerson shares that, of 15 people who have recently completed infectious disease training, five want to come back for an ESL course.

“By partnering with a nonprofit community organization that had a direct connection to the people, we were able to understand what the students needed rather than assuming what digital literacy should look like,” says Dickerson.

About Shirley L. Kreger

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