Yesterday GSV Ventures’ “Our Essential Service” webinar was held to address the shortage of digital skills among the U.S. workforce. While the growth of digital in the past 20 years is undeniable, its benefits haven’t been felt equitably. Zoë Baird, CEO and President of Markle Foundation, introduced the webinar by isolating the scenario of how older Americans have experienced difficulty when trying to access drugs online during COVID-19. The shift from a car mechanic being a physical inspector to a computer-informed data analyst is another example that Baird uses before introducing the first panelist to speak, Chike Aguh.

Aguh is the Senior Principal at Digital US, a coalition combining the work of 25 organizations driven to accelerate the equitable distribution of digital skills. The principle of resilience was reinforced by Aguh - this isn’t just about educating digital skills for one specific function, but allowing candidates to develop the mesns to keep pace with changing employment needs by themselves.

Angela Siefer spoke next, highlighting the work of the National Digital Inclusivity Alliance (NDIA) and the requirement to understand technology’s unequal distribution. Siefer has been speaking about the need to share digital more broadly since 1997, before founding NDIA in 2015 where she is Executive Director. In the chat section of the webinar, Siefer shared a useful URL with definitions including a series of criteria that would create a benchmark for Digital Literacy.

“Today 8m adults do not have broadband at home, 14m of them are in urban areas,” a stat that was later cited in the chat by attendee Alison Webber. Webber also works with Digital US and added this gem to add substance points to the infrastructure layer in the digital divide:

Although technology feels ubiquitous, only about half of households earning less than $30,000 per year have a computer, compared to 94% of households making over $100,000. And while two-thirds of these more affluent households have multiple types of devices—access to a computer, tablet, and smartphone, in addition to broadband—19% of Americans don’t own even a smartphone. 25 Smartphones are a critical first step for many, but functionality and opportunities for digital skills development on mobile devices are limited by various factors including limited screen size and storage and lack of a keyboard.

From industry, Andy Trainor relayed his experience at Walmart where learning academies are now in place at over 200 stores. A key takeaway from his experience as VP of US Learning was to make an environment to make employees “comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Trainor’s Zoom background displayed a Walmart warehouse was the most impressive from panelists, but also more subtly points to the company’s ability to professionalise the format so early in its mainstream acceptance.

Brian Napack, President and CEO of Wiley closed the webinar, highlighting the importance of creating a common language to allow different organizations to co-ordinate.

To learn more about GSV Ventures, go to Re-watch the webinar here.