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The Four Steps State Policymakers Can Take to Bridge the Digital Divide for All of California’s Workers

  ·   By Brooke DeRenzis, Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, and India Heckstall
The Four Steps State Policymakers Can Take to Bridge the Digital Divide for All of California’s Workers

When pandemic-related social distancing moved much of the nation’s economic, social, and civic lives online, it also put a spotlight on the challenges facing residents who lack broadband access, digital devices, or essential digital skills and the inequities of that digital divide. In California, the rapid shift to a virtual world has only exacerbated these challenges.

In our latest brief, Four Ways to Promote Digital Inclusion for California’s Workers, we outline concrete steps that the state’s policy leaders can take to invest in digital skill-building for quality jobs, as well as access to broadband and digital devices.

Prior to COVID-19, jobs were already undergoing massive technological transformation, with even entry-level workers using all manner of digital devices and equipment. Since the pandemic, the importance of digital skills has only accelerated. By expanding access to digital skill-building, particularly in the context of occupational training, states can empower workers and promote industry resiliency now and in the future.

Digital inclusion is key to a better and more equitable economic future that is inclusive of every worker. It can’t be stressed enough: the digital divide is not a failure of individual workers or families. It is in large part the result of policy decisions that failed to keep pace with technological advances, even as broadband internet access, digital devices, and digital skills have become baseline necessities for navigating everyday life.

California’s policy leaders have committed to rebuilding a more inclusive and resilient economy in the wake of COVID-19, and policies that promote digital inclusion must be part of that effort. National Skills Coalition is working with SkillSPAN coalitions in California and several other states to advocate that state policymakers provide digital access and learning for all working people at home and on the job as part of an inclusive economic recovery. Earlier this year, we released Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery, calling for a recovery in which workers and businesses most impacted by this recession, as well as workers previously held back by structural barriers of discrimination or opportunity, are empowered to equitably participate in and benefit from economic expansion and restructuring.

In California, specifically, we’re recommending that state leaders take the following actions to promote digital inclusion for the state’s workers:

  1. Create a new digital equity grant program for those most impacted by the pandemic economy
  2. Expand the use of existing adult education funds to support digital skill-building
  3. Ensure that digital skill-building is an explicitly permitted use of existing workforce development grant programs
  4. Utilize federal funds to provide digital skill-building, device access, and digital support for workers in workforce development programs

We’re also calling on the state to take action to expand broadband access so that all Californians, and especially the state’s most underserved communities, have high-quality, affordable access to the internet.

Our partners in the Skills for California network have already identified digital inclusion as a priority – calling on the state’s policymakers and the Future of Work Commission to support digital access and learning for all workers. We look forward to advocating for policies that promote digital inclusion in the coming months.

To learn more about the steps California’s policymakers can take, read our brief: Four Ways to Promote Digital Inclusion for California’s Workers.