Should we employ staff who don’t have digital skills?

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The question posed in the title of this post is a fair one. Why are we employing people who don’t have the digital skills that are needed to cope in today’s ‘digital world’? It’s a question raised with increasing frequency and one that deserves some serious thought.

I should start by saying that I fundamentally disagree with anyone who says that we shouldn’t employ people without the digital skills we ‘need’. I will spend the rest of this post explaining the various thoughts that lead me to feel this way but as an educator I cannot agree with it. I exist to develop people. You wouldn’t throw a child out of class for not knowing something when they walked in, that’s why we educate them, so they leave knowing more than they did when they walked in. Why shouldn’t that apply to staff?

Supporting people

This is the point that bothers me most about this question. Have we totally lost all empathy for people? Is technology really that important that we stop caring about the people we employ and work with? I hope not. I certainly haven’t. People first, technology second. See my post from the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities event.

There is nothing more satisfying than helping someone gain a new skill. It’s one of the reasons I love what I do. Employers have an obligation to develop their people. If they don’t they have failed.

Apparently a lack of digital skills is costing the UK £63billion. Perhaps the issue is not just in HE.

Widening participation

We talk a lot about widening participation for our students. Striving to ensure students from all backgrounds have access to education. Why doesn’t this principle apply to staff?

What do we ‘need’?

So part of the argument is that staff ‘need’ a specific set of skills. What are they exactly? Who determines what they are? Who is the authority on this?

Let’s take academics in the first instance. Is knowledge of Microsoft Office skills enough? If they can do Office and Twitter is that enough? I don’t believe it’s possible to create a list of things we think staff should be able to do. Their work can be incredibly broad. Technology is constantly changing and so do the goal posts.

How do we measure it?

In an interview how do we glean someone’s skill levels? Sit them in front of a computer and watch them perform some basic tasks? That’s a potential answer. Yet again we have to ask what will the test consist of and who will design it?

Institutional Priorities

I had a great conversation with someone who said “I look for members of staff who will bring value”. They did not feel that digital skills were necessarily a priority for all roles.

Academics have a wide range of responsibilities from teaching to research. Institutions have to balance these priorities when employing new staff. If an academic is a capable teacher and researcher does it really matter that they don’t use Twitter? We can help people to get the skills they need to do their job.

Relevance

Technology is not always relevant to people. Why should it be? If I know how to teach and research do I really need to know how to use Padlet? I would argue that we need to ease people in to the use of technology. It’s not helpful to vilify people. That will only serve to alienate people from technology further.

I’ve grown up with technology. Although, it’s worth noting that when I first went to school there was one computer for the whole school. I didn’t get a mobile phone until my teens. Not everyone grows up surrounded by technology and it’s naive to believe that everyone has the same experience.

Read my follow up post But what about staff that won’t or don’t want to engage in CPD?

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