In Cleveland, Bridging the Digital Divide and Workforce Training Gets a Boost
I don’t consider myself a techie. I don’t know how to code, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about how my iPhone works and although I grasp the idea of data science, I’m by no means a practitioner. Despite this and the fact that my educational background is in business and public administration, I work for a technology organization, and technology and the internet are integral to both my personal and professional life. Increasingly, stories like mine are becoming the narrative of the 21 st century. Technology is permeating nearly every facet of our lives and technology know-how and skills are becoming prerequisites, not just for tech jobs but for employment across all sectors.
Meanwhile, the city of Cleveland retains its ranking as the third least connected city in the nation, behind only Detroit, Michigan and Brownsville, Texas. Approximately 50% of Cleveland residents don’t have broadband internet connectivity at home.
The Digital Divide Slows Workforce Development
That’s an astounding figure! Think of the variety of ways you use the internet every day. From your morning news, to social media, to staying connected at work, to paying your bills, taking a class online, checking in with your child’s teacher, reviewing your test results from your doctor; the list goes on and on. Meanwhile, half of Cleveland’s residents lack the access to do any of these things.
Concurrently, Cleveland employers are struggling to fill jobs locally due to a growing technology skills gap in the region. Today, many job vacancies are only posted online, where approximately half of Clevelanders don’t have ready access to view them. It’s clear a vicious cycle is occurring, one that I believe will be insurmountable if we, as a region, fail to make inclusive, equitable access to technology a priority.
A Solution: Internet Connection and Workforce Training Programs
At DigitalC, we are committed to addressing the issues of access and digital skills building for the most vulnerable members of our population. Through two pilot programs, we will begin proving the impact of home broadband access and digital literacy training for improving social and economic outcomes for Cleveland residents. Our first program, Connect the Unconnected, will bring broadband connections to approximately 800 residents of CMHA high rise communities, as well as residents of the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries Men’s Shelter and students at Stepstone Academy. Recipients of the connectivity will also be provided with the opportunity to complete a basic digital literacy training course, teaching the fundamentals of computer and internet use, after which they will receive a refurbished computer to utilize at home.
Growing out of this effort at connectivity and basic training, DigitalC is also piloting ReStart, a technology skills building program aimed at creating on-ramps to the digital economy for under-employed and unemployed Clevelanders. Utilizing local assets and resources, DigitalC is collaborating with community workforce and training partners to embed digital skills training curriculum into existing workforce development programming, providing opportunities for marginalized populations to access everything from basic, foundational training in computer use, to intermediate curriculum in areas like computational thinking and Microsoft Office Suite, to certification and credentialing opportunities that can act as pathways to employment or higher education preparedness.
Together, Connect the Unconnected and ReStart are creating opportunities to chart a new course in Cleveland around connectivity and access for all. We may not all want or need to be techies, but the speed and impact of technology and innovation isn’t slowing down anytime soon. It’s up to us as a community to ensure that everyone in our region has the resources and tools to keep pace.
Click here to see Liz Forester and the CEO of CMHA, Jeffrey Patterson as they discuss with Ideastream the partnership of our organizations in the creation of ReStart and Connect The Unconnected.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Since historically marginalized communities are already being disproportionally impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am frustrated to see these communities also negatively impacted by the lack of on-the-ground public engagement. While I realize the threat of COVID-19 and the associated restrictions make conducting on-the-ground public engagement challenging, I want to encourage fellow planners to think more creatively. I will admit that I struggled to think creatively when I first heard that Clackamas Community College (CCC) would continue having mostly online classes in Spring Term 2021. CCC has had mostly online classes since the end of Winter Term 2020 when COVID-19 first started impacting Oregon. CCC’s decision about Spring Term 2021 became more stressful when Clackamas County staff told me that public outreach for their new shuttles could not be delayed until next summer.
A new toolkit has been developed to help businesses think through strategies to decrease mobility barriers to the workplace, which reduces turnover. When workers can reliably get to work regardless of their personal circumstances, it provides employment stability and the opportunity to build wealth. It’s a win-win. Developed through a partnership between Metropolitan Planning Council and a pro bono Boston Consulting Group team, the toolkit includes slide decks, an overview report, customizable templates, a cost calculator, and instructional videos walking a company through the thought process of establishing a baseline situation, evaluating and selecting a solution, and standing up a program.
Depending on the employer’s location and employees’ needs, solutions may range from helping with last-mile transportation to the transit system, to developing on-demand vanpools, to establishing in-house carpool matching systems. The ROI calculator gives employers the ability to determine the break-even cost—the subsidy amount a company can manage without hurting the bottom line.
Housing that is affordable to low-income residents is often substandard and suffering from deferred maintenance, exposing residents to poor air quality and high energy bills. This situation can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory health issues, and siphon scarce dollars from higher value items like more nutritious food, health care, or education. Providing safe, decent, affordable, and healthy housing is one way to address historic inequities in community investment. Engaging with affordable housing and other types of community benefit projects is an important first step toward fully integrating equity into the green building process. In creating a framework for going deeper on equity, our new book, the Blueprint for Affordable Housing (Island Press 2020), starts with the Convention on Human Rights and the fundamental right to housing.