Digital literacy valued at $1.7 billion a year

Productivity gains of one to three hours a week per person identified

New Zealand could save $1.7 billion a year by improving the productivity of its workers using ICT, a report commissioned by the NZ Computer Society claims.

With productivity improvement in the front of the public’s and government’s collective mind, the Computer Society has produced the results of a “desktop study”, said to illustrate a potential improvement in productivity of between one and three hours a week from improving individuals’ and businesses’ knowledge of ICT.

These figures come from a variety of existing studies of the results of ICT education in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South America and Asia.

On this basis, and assuming a conservative 1.7 hours a week saved over the working population that uses ICT in New Zealand, savings would be $1820 per annum per worker, indicating a productivity gain of up to $1.7 billion per annum for the whole country. This is based on the assumption that 70 percent of the workforce could improve productivity through increased skill and confidence with ICT.

Industry as a whole seems insufficiently aware of the benefits of a digitally skilled workforce, says NZCS chief executive Paul Matthews. “We can’t just rely on number-eight-wire ingenuity any more.”

Improvements for the individual are a combination of faster work and less downtime seeking advice from fellow workers or ICT support staff on common problems, an intensive 2004 study by the Italian Informatics Association found.

In addition, a high level of ICT experience within an organisation is likely to ease communication among employees and lead to innovative reorganisation of business processes, and thereby a further productivity increase in many organisations, the study claims.

It also argues that ICT works to bring more previously “marginalised” people – such as racial minorities, older people and people with disabilities – into the full-time workforce and into more productive jobs, improving overall national productivity.

The analysis, conducted by independent consultancy KnowledgeWeaversNZ at the request of NZCS, then studies three options for courses to improve ICT competence.

It comes out in favour of the International Computer Driving Licence (ICDL) over Microsoft’s Digital Literacy programme, and the Internet and Computing Core Certification (IC3) course, devised by US company Certiport.

The Microsoft programme is said to be too proprietary and IC3 under-resourced. There are only five examination centres in the country and these appear mainly to cater for students originating in the US, says the report. ICDL has almost 100 testing centres in the country, with that number likely to increase in the near future, says Matthews.

He acknowledges the promotion of ICDL in the report might appear self-serving. But the society makes no income from the ICDL agency, he says; “on the contrary, we fund it to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars a year.” NZCS may be seen as gaining kudos from government and industry support of the scheme, he says, “but that’s why we commissioned an independent report”.

The society’s chief concern is to promote the importance of digital literacy generally, he says. “We will be focusing primarily on ICDL purely because it is our view, as backed up in the report, that the ICDL is the most widely successful programme internationally and has proven itself in 148 countries with more than nine million participants. This is why we brought it to New Zealand in the first place, of course.”

NZCS is looking for help from industry and government in spreading awareness of the importance of digital literacy and in providing an example itself, by sending government employees on courses. “We’re not looking for them to give us a handout,” Matthews says.

NZCS has had some discussion around the report with the Ministry of Economic Development, he says, but these are preliminary and to be followed up in the near future.

The report makes several references to the emphasis on digital “confidence” and “capability” in the Labour-led government’s Digital Strategy. Despite the present government’s junking of most of that strategy, Matthews believes it is as committed to improving ICT skills. He sees government, however, as placing a little too much emphasis on improving “the long tail” of low-skilled employees. The moderately skilled bulk of the population would benefit from improvement as well, he says.

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Tags managementnew zelaand computer societyNZCS

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