Minnesota Literacy Council

Two women working on computers and talking with each other

Connecting job seekers with essential computer skills

Job seekers are more frequently turning to the internet to find, and apply for, jobs. But the move to online employment services poses a challenge for people without the needed technological skills and resources.

“There are so many barriers when you’re on the other side of the digital divide, like your ability to fill out a job application. When you’re used to filling out a paper application, or dropping off a resume, you often aren’t able to navigate the online system,” said JennaRose Bondeson, distance learning and digital literacy coordinator for the Minnesota Literacy Council.

Minnesota Literacy Council’s Open Door Learning Center - Midway provides free computer training classes to low-income individuals, many of whom reflect an aging population looking for jobs in an increasingly digital world.

“60 percent of the clients we work with are 50 or older. They may have had the same job for most of their lives and never thought they’d need to learn to use a computer. Now they’re unemployed and are realizing how essential computer skills are to finding a job,” said JennaRose.

Minnesota Literacy Council also provides classes to people who have recently exited correctional facilities and are working on reentering the workforce. Computer access is incredibly limited, if at all available, within prisons and many exit without adequate computer skills to find employment.

One woman helping another at a computer

Serving a Variety of Needs

“We see a wide range of needs at our classes. Some people come in, brush up on a few skills, and are ready to go. Then we see people who have zero computer knowledge. We start with things like learning how to hold a mouse, how to type and explaining what Google is. All the basics you need to find employment,” said JennaRose.

Training courses range from creating a Word document to mastering social media. Onsite volunteers help with readings, videos and hands-on exercises, giving participants the option of casual assistance, or more focused one-on-one sessions with tutors.

But, Minnesota Literacy Council notes, learning computer skills is a matter of equity as well technical know-how.

“We can’t expect success if people don’t have the tools they need to be successful. How can you apply for a job if you don’t have access to a computer, or you don’t know how to open a browser? The people I work with are dedicated to learning new skills. They’re not lazy; it’s an issue of access,” said JennaRose.

A recent grant from Mardag Foundation helped make the basic computer skills classes sustainable. Minnesota Literacy Council works with 400 clients each year, many of whom see benefits beyond successful employment.

“Many people come in saying ‘Computers hate me.’ They feel like an outsider. It’s so exciting to watch them learn and realize that through technology they can be better connected to their communities. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about,” said JennaRose.