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Computer course aims to give skills to displaced workers

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

The free course, funded through $25,000 from the federal government, is being offered in a limited capacity by the Mount Waddington Family Literacy Society, with courses 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 program idea began in 2015, after the mill in Port Alice closed. She adds downturns in fishing, logging and eventually the pandemic shut down industries with workers who might not have had great knowledge of computers.

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

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According to Hutton, they are not alone. She says almost half of Canadians don’t have the skills to find and apply for jobs online.

A recent study done by Decoda Literacy Solutions found that more than 700,000 British Columbians have significant challenges with literacy. 

The same organization found two-thirds of workers in Port Alice have a digital literacy gap. They attribute the findings to employers not updating their technology, leaving employees without transferable skills to new industries.

Hutton says she has seen how this can hinder an individual from taking on a new, or a better job that could benefit them in the long run.

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

She adds that changing labour markets and a move from long-term careers have also placed stress on the workers.

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The course goes into teaching the students basic computer skills, according to Hutton. She says students receive a laptop for the six-week course, and they learn skills starting from how the computer turns on to understanding searches, email communication and safety online.

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

She adds Zoom meetings and accessing government services online are also a part of the curriculum.

Hutton says she lives for the “lightbulb” moment, where students suddenly understand how the technology works and that the environment is not as scary as it seems.

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

She adds that while the training does not give people skills for any specific job, it gives them a lot of opportunities to build, including starting a small business or working in an office.

Registration or more information can be found by calling 250-902-7149. The courses run in Port Hardy in September, Port McNeill in January and another location will be found for April.

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