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Morino Institute From Access to Outcomes: Digital Divide Report and Dialogue
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Promoting Economic Development




Jan 30, 2001


Bob Templin

Opening Note: This is the first of a multi-part point of view on the centrality of technology and economic opportunity within the Digital Divide discussion. We need to look at this portion of the Digital Divide discussion as being an honest assessment of the promise and potential technology poses. In creating goals, we should balance the threats it poses -- the pragmatics vs. idealistic visions -- of what, where and how technology can be of highest impact. Your reactions, comments, questions and examples are all invited.


Toward What End? If the Digital Divide discussion doesn't focus on jobs and economic opportunity as outcomes, what's the point? Due to an implosion of economic activity and loss of semi-skilled and blue-collar jobs within low-income communities, one outcome that must be focused upon is that of economic opportunity. Without economic opportunity -- the opportunity to make a real living -- either by effective employment or one's own business, there is little chance for measurable progress or success. We know that jobs offering a predictable and adequate income and benefits are the foundation for families to meet their day-to-day requirements and build for the future. We know that, with adequate employment, families are stronger, children grow up healthier and learn more. We know strong families and economic opportunity together build better neighborhoods. If there is to be a focal outcome of the Digital Divide discussion, economic opportunity would surely be it.

How are these lost jobs and businesses replaced? What actions can be taken to positively affect and strengthen the social network of low-income communities?

The Digital Divide, Education & IT Training in Low-Income Communities 

One of the central themes of the Digital Divide discussion has been launched on the premise that technology can lead to economic opportunity - by training people from low-income communities for the growing number of high-end IT jobs such as network engineers, programmers, web designers, and technical support personnel.

Some low-income community members have a technical aptitude, are able to complete practical IT training, learn relevant high-level skills and achieve high tech employment. But the vast majority needs a different, more realistic continuum of training and employment opportunities. The Digital Divide discussion must move beyond the narrow definition of IT skills training as the primary economic opportunity as it is too limiting and often unrealistic.

Prior to and throughout the push for IT training, it's important to expand, strengthen and improve educational standards supporting the acquisition of fundamental knowledge and skill, giving students in low-income communities a better launching pad in seeking out and being qualified for continued training, providing them with more opportunities, even in entry-level positions.

Developing A Continuum of Training & Employment Opportunities for the Information Economy

While we need to recognize and encourage those who have the aptitude for and are capable of learning technology skills to get high-end high-tech jobs, we also need to recognize that most low-income residents do not possess basic educational levels needed to be successful in acquiring advanced technology skills.

We should concentrate on using technology to develop a continuum of training and employment opportunities that start with high-end high-tech jobs and move through the equivalent of skilled "blue-collar" workers in the high-tech sector such as network administrators, those who pull cable and set up work stations, and the low-tech elements of the high-tech industry such as telemarketing, administrative support, customer service, and equipment maintenance personnel. These are entry points to the food chain with opportunities for advancement as work experience, continuing training and education are acquired.

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