How to turn an IT wilderness into a tech savvy workplace

Two years ago I came across a health care not-for-profit organisation that had bought a set of iPads with a vision of using them for better record keeping and communication.  They threw them in the cupboard.   Nobody wanted to use them.  They didn’t know how to use them.  The employer had a workforce that was frightened – not just frightened about technology, but also about how it would impact on their jobs.  They didn’t anticipate the reactions from their mainly older workforce, including managers and supervisors.  Despite this, this organisation had the right idea and with my help persevered.  In November 2014 the same organisation held a conference that took place in North East Victoria about workforce development and future growth in the industry.   One of the top three priorities identified by the 70 attendees was better use of technology.

It is easy for organisations to see the benefits of introducing the latest technology – better record keeping, accurate efficient systems, point of sale stock control, reducing travel costs through online conferencing, reducing costs, improving profits etc.  Staff may adapt to using the systems, but without proper training and support, many are likely to restrict their usage to what is absolutely necessary.  If the system is dependent on record keeping, then their reports may be brief or inaccurate.  Literacy and numeracy issues may also be compounded by lack of IT skills.  Fear of breaking software is also a deterrent to using programs to their full extent.

Younger employees are more likely to embrace technology and will be curious enough to expand their understanding of the equipment and systems they are using.  They are online social networkers, eager to move to the next new app.  These are traits of digital natives.  Born after 1980, these people have lived with technology all their lives whereas the older generations grew up with paper systems and are more likely to print out copies of everything they do.  They may also print out documents to edit rather than make changes on screen or they wouldn’t think twice about travelling to meetings when it would be more cost effective to video conference.  These people are the digital immigrants who have to change the way they think and operate in a world where technology is omni present.

One of the biggest barriers to introducing new technology into the workplace can be the supervisor or manager.  If they are not IT literate they will resist the introduction of new systems.  Things have worked well so far, why change?  or will the new system erode our authority?  The likely underlying issue will be fear – fear of technology.  That is until they begin to learn how to use it.  There may be resistance to learning about information technology, so make it easy for them.  Some may prefer learning shoulder to shoulder in a class room with other managers or one-on-one with a mentor, others may wish to learn through written guides, instructional videos or watching others.  Once the manager or supervisor has gained some confidence in using technology, they will be more comfortable with the change you are trying to implement. In my experience, some of these resistant learners have become eager e-learning champions, leading the change from the inside.

Before introducing new technology, it is a good idea to carry out a skills audit of your staff.  Introduce a simple questionnaire and back it up with focus groups.  This way we discovered a lot about our digital immigrants (and our digital natives).  The older staff members were keen to learn but time and ability to get to training on days off were issues.  They were enthusiastic about the idea of learning from recorded videos and using online communication.  They also wanted to learn how to write letters, send and receive emails, use spreadsheets, design brochures and make presentations – these were beyond the immediate needs of the employer but were examples of everyday uses of IT that many of us take for granted.  Likewise the digital natives also expressed interest in similar tasks as their skills in social networking and texting didn’t extend to formal letter writing, budgets and making effective presentations.

We want a digitally enabled workforce but are we creating digitally friendly workplaces?  Can we record presentations and make them available for shift workers to watch later?  Do our policies and procedures leave us confident that data is secure?  When it comes to training our staff, are we considering their learning styles – some are audio learners, others prefer videos? Are manuals available in user friendly audio visual and hard copy formats?  Can our networks cope with the volume of traffic?  Can we still maintain offline emergency options for when systems are down?  By overcoming these objections, we can more clearly demonstrate the benefits of information technology and engage the workforce.

Once we created an environment of expectation, learning new IT skills was not a big issue.  A computer training room was made available for staff to learn IT skills. Record keeping and productivity improved as staff were able to use more of the technology applications.  Staff also applied their new confidence in technology to return to study for qualifications as part of a workforce development and career advancement strategy in an industry that is expecting a shortfall in staff over the next few years.

Not a bad return on investment for this employer.

About the author:  Pat Grosse considers herself a digital captive.  Born a digital immigrant, she took computer studies at school at a time when there were only two computers in a city of a quarter of a million people.  She used manual and electronic typewriters, visual display units (VDUs) and wordpressors before organising Europe-wide conferences on technology in education in the 1990’s.  Escaping to Australia saw little respite when she soon found herself advocating e-learning to community education providers and becoming an e-learning mentor.  Over the last three years she has been working with industry to improve workplace learning through the use of information technology platforms and resources.  Pat can be contacted on 03 9005 5889 or

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