We’ve made a fair amount of noise about the generational differences in today’s workplaces. There are four generations of workers in the labour market, each with different expectations and methods of work. But in most workplaces, regardless of workers’ ages and attitudes, there is one constant: they all use the same computers. Today’s computers might be versatile enough to support various working styles, but are workers—young and old—adaptable enough to use them efficiently?
I must have been about eight when my teacher mom brought home a computer from her school for my sisters and me to use one summer in the mid-1980s. I’m comfortable with computers, usually even when they are unfamiliar, but with advancing and accelerating consumer and workplace technology, it can be difficult to maintain an understanding of basic functions, let alone to learn more advanced ones. I know I could be a more efficient computer user.
I suspect that most computer users are not specialists—programmers, software engineers, graphic or web designers, database/information managers, etc. They are general users. They use a variety of computer programs to do their jobs. They might use more than one operating system. They may have access to important, confidential or personal business information. They may have access to unsecured online documents. Do employees use search functions well? How do they manage files? Do they know whom to contact when their computer suspects a virus or malware? Do they know how to combine keyboard and mouse use to save time? Do they know any functions beyond the basics of launching programs, finding files, searching the web, sending and reading email, typing and so on?
Even specialists are general users when it comes to common applications. A graphic designer might also use presentation, spreadsheet and finance applications. He is unlikely to be an expert in all of them.
I’ll look at the numbers in a future post, but I submit that, despite the best efforts of user interface and application designers, most workers actually know very little about the capabilities of the machines they use every day and, I suspect, equally little about how to use them. I’d like to know how our readers feel about computer literacy in their workplaces. Do you test job applicants’ computer literacy? Do you train employees in basic or advanced computer use?
Does anyone solicit suggestions from employees on good computer practices and/or get knowledgeable employees to lead informal training sessions on suggested efficient computer practices, advanced functions, new devices and so on?
Workplace computer literacy has broad effects. I’ll look at what it means for employer policy another time.
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor
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