Digital literacy in the workplace: What, why, and how?

Published on 18/05/2022 by Sukanya Awasthi

Digital literacy is becoming as important as reading and writing’ with almost a third of respondents (28%) in the UK describing their current level of digital skills as basic. In this article, we will look at what digital literacy is, why it is important for businesses, and how they are coping with the digital divide.

Digital literacy can equip learners to use digital technology

Technology plays a crucial role in all areas of our life. COVID-19 may have possibly increased the dependency of the workforce on digital applications like video conferencing solutions, training software, contactless payment apps etc. In such a scenario, it may be crucial for employees to understand and use technology to its fullest potential. Doing so may help them undertake more technology-driven jobs with ease and it can also possibly help companies reap the full benefit of their technological and software-based expenditures. 

Before we delve more into the importance of digital literacy and how it can be used by businesses to create a digitally-aware workforce, let us first understand what digital literacy is.

What is digital literacy?

Digital literacy refers to an employee’s knowledge and awareness of digital technology, how comfortable they are using it, and how they are able to cope with the challenges surrounding the use of such technology. Digital literacy skills can possibly help workers collaborate better by using technology to interact and communicate with one another. 

Employees who aren’t accustomed to technological solutions in their workplace may struggle to communicate successfully with coworkers using unfamiliar tools and applications. Employees who are digitally literate may end up possibly being more productive because they can potentially better understand and identify important data, information, and trends and apply them to their daily tasks.

Literacy skills can help an individual understand and interact with the information around them
Various types of literacy skills for individuals

Why is digital literacy important for employees in the UK?

Digital literacy has possibly been an important aspect of workforce empowerment in the UK. According to a report by Times Higher Education, the need for the UK workforce to attain appropriate levels of digital literacy was already strong prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ made it even more essential. The report further goes on to say that as the country recovers from the pandemic, that demand is expected to grow much more.

Another report by the Learning & Work Institute states that digital skills will be critical for the future of the UK economy to help drive growth and productivity. The downloadable report also goes on to say that:

  • 76% of businesses state that a lack of digital skills would impact the profitability of their company.
  • 88% of young people believe that digital skills will be crucial for the future of their careers.
  • 70% of the young workforce states that they want an employer who invests in their digital literacy skills.

From the data above, it may be inferred that both employers and employees are potentially keen on developing digital literacy skills which can help them increase their profts and employability. 

A survey conducted by BT found that more than a quarter of all large enterprises (29%) and more than a third of big corporations (38%) already use artificial intelligence while 5G penetration has climbed by 12% since 2020. The report also states that businesses in the United Kingdom have a chance to address the organisational difficulties arising due to the introduction of newer technology by upskilling and educating their workers on the benefits of emerging technology.

3 Tips to develop digital literacy in the workplace

According to a quote published in the National Skills Coalition report by Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, a Senior Fellow at NSC:

There’s a big difference between foundational digital literacy – which is a baseline skill set that workers need to have regardless of industry – and occupational digital literacy, which is about specific technology-related skills that are needed for a particular job or industry.’

The article also states that large organisations with the resources to develop their own in-house training programs are leading the way in occupational digital literacy. To build their talent pipelines, small and mid-sized enterprises frequently collaborate with community colleges and other training providers.

There are many ways the skills gap can be bridged in companies which are looking to overcome the digital divide. Some of the ways to help develop digital literacy in the workplace are as follows:

1. Employee training

 Providing in-house training can potentially be a great way to introduce newer technology and concepts to the employees. There are many ways this can be done. Companies can either conduct separate sessions for workers or they can provide them with access to an online learning platform and training software in which workers can enrol themselves and learn at their own pace. These sessions can either be conducted by a relevant member/department from within the organisation or an external trainer who specialises in that field. 

2. Teamwork and knowledge sharing

Knowledge sharing among peers is a great way to exchange skills. Employees from different backgrounds and domains can share their knowledge of tools and technology with other individuals. Collaborative projects can also be a good way for team members to connect with each other and overcome technological roadblocks. 

3. Performance audits

Another way to track and improve the digital skills gap is through performance audits. It may be helpful for companies to assess their business requirements and decide which digital platforms and tools they would like their employees to get trained on. After that, the next step should potentially be to check how familiar employees are with these tools and how comfortable they are using them. They can then organise a training schedule accordingly.

What is the key takeaway?

When new technology is first presented to the workforce, it can possibly be daunting for them to get accustomed to it. Having said that, a fair portion of employees may be ready and eager to learn digital skills in order to bridge the digital divide. Businesses may also aim to emphasise the relevance of digital literacy and extended digital education in the workplace to their staff. 

This can potentially be a win-win situation for both employers and employees wherein the employees may be able to upskill themselves and possibly be more relevant to the organisation and their industry, and employers can likely benefit from those skills to increase their profits and productivity.

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This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.

About the author

Content Analyst for the UK market. Committed to offering insights on technology, emerging trends, and software suggestions to SMBs. Plant lady, café hopper, and dog mom.

Content Analyst for the UK market. Committed to offering insights on technology, emerging trends, and software suggestions to SMBs. Plant lady, café hopper, and dog mom.

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