Fishing skills

Computer course aims to empower displaced workers

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and job losses across the country, a computer course on Vancouver Island aims to provide skills to displaced workers.

The free course, funded by $25,000 from the federal government, is offered in a limited capacity by the Mount Waddington Family Literacy Societywith classes beginning in September in Port Hardy.

Adult Literacy Coordinator Nickka Hutton says the Connect4Work program gives workers who have very little or no computer skills the tools to work in a digital environment.

She says the idea for the program began in 2015, after the Port Alice plant closed. She adds downturns in fishing, logging and eventually the pandemic shuttered industries with workers who may not have had much computer literacy.

“People couldn’t just walk into an office and ask a human being a question, a lot of those offices were closed and everyone was doing their work online,” Hutton said. “Great for those who can use computers, but made it very difficult for people who just couldn’t get online.”

According to Hutton, they are not alone. She says nearly half of Canadians lack the skills to find and apply for jobs online.

A recent study by Decoda Literacy Solutions found that over 700,000 British Columbians have significant literacy challenges.

The same organization found two-thirds of workers in Port Alice have a digital literacy deficit. They attribute the results to employers who don’t update their technology, leaving employees without skills transferable to new industries.

Hutton says she’s seen how it can prevent someone from taking on a new or better job that could benefit them in the long run.

“A woman really wanted to get a better job in an office environment, but she couldn’t use email, so she couldn’t apply,” Hutton said. “One guy had a job but they changed the way things were done and now he had to submit his scorecards by emailing them as an attachment. He had no idea how to do that.

She adds that changing labor markets and the abandonment of long-term careers have also put pressure on workers.

The course involves teaching students basic computer skills, according to Hutton. She says students are given a laptop for the six-week course and learn skills ranging from how the computer turns on to understanding research, email communication and security. on line.

“We talk about basic computer language so they understand some of the terms,” Hutton said. “Terms such as upload, download, or gigabytes.”

She adds that Zoom meetings and access to government services online are also part of the program.

Hutton says she lives for the “light bulb” moment, where students suddenly understand how technology works and the environment isn’t as scary as it seems.

“It’s very exciting to see their confidence grow as they understand,” she said. “You can see the pride in them.”

She adds that although the training does not give people the skills needed for a specific job, it does provide them with many development opportunities, including starting a small business or working in an office.

Registration or more information can be found by calling 250-902-7149. Classes are held in Port Hardy in September, Port McNeill in January and another location will be found in April.