Apr 12, 2022

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An intro to digital equity and employment

by | Apr 12, 2022

Within the wide range of work tackled by Colorado Center on Law and Policy, one significant area of activity involves coordinating the Skills2Compete Colorado coalition (S2C), the Colorado affiliate of the National Skills Coalition (NSC).

The primary responsibility of both the local and national coalitions is to determine diverse strategies, policies, and programs of benefit to those seeking to obtain or retain employment. This includes encouraging upskilling for all, improving portals and platforms used to transfer information online, supporting individuals to pursue career pathways that offer living wages and opportunities for advancement, and expanding the ability of all Coloradans to benefit from advancing technology.

Early in 2020, the membership of Skills2Compete Colorado identified literacy as the priority of our work for the year, given its impact on an individual’s ability to obtain or retain employment in a desired career. Although we expected to develop legislative recommendations for the legislative session in 2021, the emergence of the pandemic in March forced us to reconsider the most pressing priorities for Coloradans, given the new realities of employment and life in the time of COVID. Top among these was the growing need to access work, skill training, public benefit programs, and other pandemic-related supports through online portals and platforms.

Earlier discoveries

The refocused work proceeded shortly after the COVID pandemic began. As nearly all areas of life increased their dependence on online services, the challenges facing all Coloradans, especially those with limited access to (or understanding of) digital technology, increased exponentially.

This included more obvious changes, such as having students of all ages attending classes virtually, attending telehealth meetings in place of regular medical appointments, or performing many work functions remotely. But it also shifted large areas of daily life, such as ordering groceries or any takeout meals, purchasing other necessary items, or finding new ways to communicate with family and friends.

Hidden costs of this international move towards digital life emerged. The pandemic raised the need for a massive investment in broadband and affordable connectivity for all households nationwide, increasing support for the idea that digital access should be viewed as a key component of modern infrastructure, similar to having clean water and adequate electricity and heat. These costs also indicated a need to expand our understanding of how digital equity, inclusion, literacy, upskilling — and even access to affordable connectivity and equipment — have become integral parts of our lives and our abilities to conduct personal and professional business of any kind.

Current work and themes

The current work of CCLP and Skills2Compete Colorado involves partnerships of different types — with the Office of the Future of Work in the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the full Skills2Compete Coalition, the Economic Analysis and Research Network of the Economic Policy Institute, as well as local partners Spring Institute of Multicultural Learning and the Center for Work Education and Employment (CWEE).

Each of our projects support these primary goals:

  1. To intentionally solicit and represent the voices of diverse communities regarding their needs and concerns related to digital access and the role it has in their daily personal and professional lives.
  2. To describe and define the human challenges that exist for Coloradans in transitioning to a digital lifestyle beyond the basic needs of having affordable and accessible connectivity, equipment, and general skills.
  3. To expand public understanding of how digital access and literacy impacts future opportunities available to all Coloradans.
  4. To magnify the responsibility that all employers, government agencies, community entities and individuals share in supporting the increased accessibility and digital literacy of all Coloradans by employing portals, platforms and websites that are “user-friendly” and designed for the user to obtain the desired resource information or service as easily as possible.
  5. To draft and submit recommendations and promising practices that are incorporated into the state digital plan (required through the passage of the Digital Equity Act), potential legislation, and policy initiatives focused on expanding digital equity and inclusion across the state.

How does digital equity impact CCLP’s work?

As CCLP’s and S2C’s work has progressed over the past 2-plus years, we have engaged in frequent discussions on issues of racial and economic equity for Coloradans. Similarly, the issue of digital equity and inclusion has emerged as a relevant sub-topic in each of our focus areas (Food, Housing, Income, and Health), and in our evaluations of the platforms and portals that are used for Coloradans to apply for and obtain diverse resources and benefits.

The importance of creating and using portals that are easy to use and very navigable to many individuals has only increased as the reliance on digital tools has skyrocketed. As staff perform interviews and listening sessions with diverse communities, we anticipate that new insights and proposed solutions toward digital equity will become an integral part of many legislative priorities in the future.

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