The pandemic has changed our everyday life: the way we work, the way we shop, and the way we socialize and communicate. Business owners, organizations, and employees have made drastic shifts to accommodate their constituents in this new reality. Theresa Paucar, the owner of Supermercado Martin’s, a supermarket chain with three stores in a prominent Latino neighborhood in the Northwest of Chicago, is but one example. The pandemic forced her to consider introducing new technology to remain competitive in her industry, with customers increasingly leaning towards placing online orders and getting groceries delivered. Theresa faced a conundrum: her employees were uncomfortable with new technology, and she did not have the resources or tools to provide digital skills training. Theresa is not an outlier: for millions of Latino and other minority business owners, this is a daily struggle, an increasingly urgent one. As digital tools and platforms become increasingly central in our economy and society, it is essential to provide digital skills training to the emerging and incumbent workforce and meet the demands of the changing labor market. Particularly concerning is the fact that Latinos face the highest rates of potential job displacement due to automation and digitalization.

Austin Community College District is addressing the digital skills challenge through its Digital Fluency for Today’s Jobs initiative. Austin Community College (ACC) is a nationally recognized college serving Central Texas as a gateway to higher education, providing open-door access to education for students who want to earn a degree, learn a marketable skill, or advance their careers. Opened in 1973, ACC has grown to 11 campuses and nearly 76,000 students. Among other achievements, ACC was listed as one of the Top 25 community colleges for Hispanics. They also earned the Seal of Excelencia certification.

The Digital Fluency for Today’s Jobs initiative originated through ACC’s involvement in the BACK TO WORK 50+ grant awarded by AARP Foundation through the Social Innovation Fund. The grant helped people over 50 get a job. A significant proportion of the participants were Latinas who did not have the confidence to apply for a job due to a lack of digital skills. Considering that Austin is a high-tech industry hub and that 75% of local job postings require advanced digital skills, there was an urgent need to address the skills mismatch. The digital blind spot, however, was not exclusive to the 50+ age population but was also true for approximately half of the African American workforce and 57% of the Latino workforce.

Read the full article about digital fluency by Diego Deleersnyder and Domenika Lynch at The Aspen Institute.