(Re)Designing JobScout

I’m Paul Lucci, the local artist here at TRAIL. I’ve spent the better part of the last couple years helping the company shape the look and feel of its platforms, primarily with JobScout.

When we initially started working on JobScout’s look and aesthetic, we wanted to reflect the “scout” part, obviously. We ended up using a lot of browns that are often used in camping gear, Boy Scout uniforms, etc. It worked for us for a while, until we realized that, well, everything was pretty brown, which isn’t exactly everyone’s favorite color.

So, back to the drawing board. Not literally, of course. Everything is digital now. But I digress. 

"What do people like most about being a scout, about all the activities, like camping?" I asked myself when redesigning. The answer, of course, is being outside. Is there anything more welcoming than a blue sky and rolling green hills? 

At this point I thought if it would work for us, this simple a design. Then I thought about our games. JobScout uses games/activities as a teaching tool, which is one of my favorite parts of working at TRAIL. See, I’m an avid gamer, and I enjoy the ability to help with the creation of any type of game or challenge. And what game is central to most people’s game history? What game created a franchise and solidified a company as the name synonymous with video games? I’m talking, of course, about Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers.

The first time you boot up Super Mario Brothers you are greeted with World 1-1. A level that features, you guessed it, blue sky and green hills. It’s a simple, pleasant aesthetic that everyone immediately understands. It made you want to jump in (and over, and on top of Goombas) and really find out what lay just to the right of the screen.

So, that was it. With this design choice in mind, I set to remove all the browns and cloth texture and replace them with a clear blue sky and green hills that says, “Welcome to JobScout. Let’s get started!”

TRAIL’s TechCrunch Recap: We’re Going to Tell Everyone About This

It was not long after TRAIL founders Christina Gagnier and Stephanie Margossian walked off of the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield stage before people from all areas of the industry came up to our booth to comment on how admirable our social mission was and what a great product we had. While most journalists, bloggers, venture capitalists and attendees were enamored with the latest and greatest technology innovations that were focused on the tech elite, nearly everyone who approached the TRAIL booth personally knew someone who directly needed a platform such as ours.

One of our most memorable conversations was with a woman working for the security and event staff at the Design Concourse.  After the activity at the TRAIL table began to slow down, “Mary” approached us and immediately began discussing how her children have tried to get her online and on mobile devices, but that each time it had been a failure. Having seen our Battlefield presentation, she found new hope in the possibility of getting caught up on social networks with her kids.

“I’m going to tell everyone I know about this,” she said as she grabbed a handful of stickers. “This is great!”

Indeed, we felt the same.

There were plenty of business discussions for the TRAIL team during the three days of TechCrunch Disrupt. Our main highlight was the affirmation that what we are doing REALLY touches people and improves their ability to use modern resources and connect with the rest of the world.

Please check out some of our initial press coverage and our Disrupt Battlefield presentation.

TRAIL in TechCrunch

TRAIL in VentureBeat

TRAIL Startup Battlefield Presentation

Digital Literacy and the Hispanic Community in the United States

As the Spanish Language Director for JobScout, my principal task upon joining the team last November was to undertake a full translation of the entire platform. The task was as large as the content was varied, and I dedicated months to making sure the product I would put before the Spanish-speaking community in California was linguistically exceptional. I have worked with Mexican and Peruvian colleagues in guaranteeing that excellence, and I am proud of the work we have accomplished together.

Translation, though, has proven to be just the foundation of a much larger project. One of the first things that drew me to JobScout and TRAIL was the social aim of the company. Of course, like many of the people that my colleagues and I speak with on a daily basis, understanding the crisis of digital illiteracy was initially confusing to me. This is the Bay Area, after all, and everyone seems to be connected to three devices at once. What does it mean to be digitally illiterate? How many people really don’t know how to use the Internet?

The results are in, and the conclusions to be drawn are clear. Pew Research reveals that 60 million people in the United States are unable to confidently navigate the Internet and, according to a recent New York Times article, the public sector is increasingly unable to tackle the problem with manpower and offline classes alone. Of those 60 million Americans, minorities are among those who are especially affected. As Internet familiarity is often overlooked and more and more seen as a given by every sector of society, those who don’t know how to use an Internet browser are left behind.

Creating a product for the Spanish-speaking community in the United States goes beyond simply taking the English language version and translating into Spanish word for word. Along the way, I’ve come to see this work as an interaction with a community that goes beyond grammar prescriptions and dictionaries. I have had the privilege of interacting with Spanish-speaking users throughout the state, from Sacramento, to the Bay Area, to Los Angeles and all the way to the Imperial Valley. Beyond a second-language offering, what are the distinct needs of the Latino community when it comes to digital literacy and online job search?

Once again, the answer is clear. According to a 2010 Pew Hispanic Research Survey, Latinos fall short of both Caucasians and African-Americans in broadband access and cellphone ownership. Spanish-dominant Latinos in the United States lag even further behind their bilingual and English-dominant counterparts in both. The vulnerability of those who have recently arrived in the United States is further compounded by an inability to access vital resources online. Furthermore, a larger percentage of Hispanic Americans rely on a smartphone for Internet access than either Caucasians or African-Americans.

To begin to tackle this problem, a Spanish-language platform need first develop strong partnerships to promote the availability of the product in public spheres upon which many Latino users rely to stay connected. To that end, we have established and cultivated strong relationships with library systems and educational institutions that are pivotal in providing the equipment and guidance that users need to get started. The self-directed platform then allows users to move at their own pace, navigating our full range of lessons in neutral, accessible Spanish, and provides unique job search tools to accommodate those looking for full time, contract and temporary work. We are proud to also have an iOS app and a forthcoming Android app to meet the Latino community where they are (i.e. where they most often access the Internet) and further our mission to close the digital divide.

Closing that divide and leveling the playing field for everyone is a lofty goal, but it is one to which I am proud to have made a contribution. And though that road may be long, in just one year our beta platform has clearly demonstrated that progress is possible, and our Spanish-language offering is a testament to it.





El aprendizaje digital y la comunidad hispana en los Estados Unidos

Al asumir el cargo de director del programa de español para JobScout, mi principal tarea una vez incorporado al equipo el pasado noviembre fue la de llevar a cabo una traducción completa de la plataforma. La tarea era tan amplia como variado era su contenido; razón por la que dediqué meses a asegurarme de que el producto que presentaría a la comunidad hispanoparlante en California fuera de una calidad lingüística excepcional. He trabajado con colegas de México y Perú para garantizar tal excelencia, y me enorgullece el trabajo que hemos logrado realizar juntos.

Sin embargo, la traducción ha resultado ser meramente la base de un proyecto significativamente mayor. Uno de los aspectos que me atrajo inicialmente a JobScout y TRAIL fue el objetivo social de la compañía. Desde luego, al igual que a muchas de las personas con las que mis colegas y yo hablamos a diario, comprender la crisis del analfabetismo digital me resultó difícil en un principio. Estamos en el Área de la Bahía a fin de cuentas, y todos parecen estar conectados a tres dispositivos al mismo tiempo. ¿Qué exactamente significa el analfabetismo digital? ¿Cuántas personas realmente no saben cómo utilizar Internet?

Los resultados se pueden ver y las conclusiones a las que se puede llegar son claras. Pew Research revela que 60 millones de personas en los Estados Unidos no tienen la capacidad de navegar satisfactoriamente por Internet, y, según un reciente
artículo del New York Times, el sector público pierde aceleradamente la capacidad de abordar el problema sólo a través de personal y clases sin conexión a Internet. De esos 60 millones de estadounidenses, son las minorías quienes se ven particularmente afectadas. A medida que estar familiarizado con Internet es algo que se pasa por alto y cada vez más se da por hecho en todo sector de la sociedad, aquellos que no saben cómo utilizar un buscador de Internet van quedando rezagados.

Crear un producto para la comunidad hispanoparlante en los Estados Unidos va más allá de simplemente realizar una traducción de la versión en inglés palabra por palabra. A lo largo del camino, he llegado a ver este trabajo como una interacción con una comunidad que va más allá de recetas gramaticales y diccionarios. He tenido el privilegio de interactuar con usuarios hispanoparlantes a través de todo el estado, desde Sacramento hasta el Área de la Bahía, Los Ángeles e incluso llegando al Imperial Valley. Además de disponer de una versión en su propio idioma, ¿cuáles son las claras necesidades de la comunidad hispana en cuanto al aprendizaje digital y la búsqueda de empleo en línea?

Nuevamente, la respuesta es clara. Según una encuesta de Pew Hispanic Research en el 2010, los latinos figuran muy por debajo de los caucásicos no hispanos y los afroamericanos en los índices de acceso a banda ancha y de propiedad de teléfonos celulares. Los latinos que hablan preponderantemente español en los Estados Unidos figuran incluso más por debajo de sus congéneres bilingües y aquellos que dominan primordialmente el inglés. La vulnerabilidad de quienes han llegado recientemente a los Estados Unidos se ve agravada por su incapacidad de acceder a recursos vitales en línea. Adicionalmente, los hispanos recurren a los teléfonos inteligentes para acceder a Internet más que los caucásicos no hispanos o afroamericanos.

Para poder abordar este problema, una plataforma en el idioma español necesita primero desarrollar alianzas sólidas que permitan promocionar la disponibilidad del producto en las esferas públicas de las que muchos usuarios latinos dependen para mantenerse conectados. Para ese propósito, hemos establecido y cultivado fuertes relaciones con sistemas de bibliotecas e instituciones educativas que son fundamentales para proporcionar el equipo y orientación que los usuarios necesitan para dar el primer paso. La plataforma autodirigida permite entonces a los usuarios avanzar a su propio ritmo, navegando nuestro amplio rango de lecciones en un español neutral y accesible; proporcionando así herramientas únicas para la búsqueda de empleo a quienes buscan trabajo a tiempo completo, temporal o por contrato. Estamos también orgullosos de tener una aplicación iOS y próximamente una aplicación Android para alcanzar a los hispanos donde se encuentren (i.e. desde donde acceden a Internet más frecuentemente) e impulsar, a su vez, nuestra misión de cerrar la brecha digital.   

El objetivo de cerrar esta brecha y allanar el terreno para todos es muy ambicioso, pero me enorgullece haber colaborado con el esfuerzo. Y si bien el camino puede ser largo, en tan sólo un año nuestra plataforma beta ha demostrado claramente que el progreso es posible, y nuestra propuesta en español es una muestra de ello.


Paul Jackson

Director of Spanish Language

JobScout: A Website in the Right Language at the Right Time

During my last visit to Peru, less than a year ago, I noticed several changes in how people in Lima were living. On one side of the equation, there was a clear increase in individual consumption and purchasing power, while at the same time, on the other, there were the booming, almost overwhelming, commercial activities and ad campaigns in the capital. It is obvious that economic growth has worked to the benefit of many.

Residents and tourists alike can enjoy a meal out in one of the new, modern restaurants, see a movie at the theater, spend the day with family in one of the many well-maintained urban parks, take a stroll through the city and stop by one of the more than a handful of Starbucks, which, by the way, are three times ritzier in Peru than in the United States.

On one cold afternoon in one of these Starbucks, I found myself surrounded by young Peruvians exchanging ideas about different projects, both academic and professional, that they were working on. They had a clear understanding of English netspeak, and, of course, each was equipped with a cutting-edge laptop. It was not like this before. But it’s logical, given that, according to an Internet data analysis report by comScore, Latin America saw a 12% increase in web users over the last year, thus reaching a total of 147 million Internet users. Growth of Internet use rates in the region outpaced growth in Europe (5%), Asia (7%) and the US and Canada (1%).

Despite these figures, not everyone has been able to reap the benefits that a largely virtual way of life offers. As Internet use and online shopping increase exponentially, new questions arise concerning the quality of life of the Internet users themselves, who are mainly driven to consume but remain mostly or totally in the dark about the infinite resources available online that could effect markedly positive changes in their lives. Countries like Brazil and Venezuela clearly demonstrate the growing trend of online shopping in Latin America. According to comScore data, half of all Internet users in both countries spent between $250 and $1000 (USD) on Internet purchases over a three-month period.

The power of the Latin American consumer online might well indicate an improvement in the region’s economic well-being. However, the power to purchase alone doesn’t begin to cover the gamut of the Internet’s resources, like the ability to use the web to find work or start a business. Given this reality, JobScout provides an answer to the question of how to address the digital divide that affects not only Latin America, but the entire world.

This summer, I joined the TRAIL staff to assist the team developing the Spanish version of the site for launch in September. The mission of JobScout is to equip users with basic Internet skills, by way of the Internet, with the goal of helping users address practical concerns. These concerns include, among others, how to find and apply for work online, use a web browser to find information, create and use an e-mail account, recognize the risk of sharing information publicly, understand privacy policies, share ideas and offer services.

Internationalization strategies often put an emphasis on increasing sales while totally omitting basic attention to idiomatic and linguistic quality. Taking language and cultural differences into due consideration is fundamental for addressing the needs of a target population. Perhaps the pace of the corporate world leaves little room for making that effort.

For the first time in my experience working with online content platforms, I have the pleasure of working on the launch of this product that teaches people how to use the Internet for a company that recognizes and prizes linguistic quality in a foreign-language offering. I am proud to be part of this important effort and to share it with the Spanish-speaking community.

These days, information travels everywhere, and much of it can be found online with only two or three clicks of a mouse. Finding detailed information online isn’t limited to reading articles or typing searches into traditional search engines. Online video represents a new audiovisual learning alternative to satisfy a growing demand for more specific digital content.

Without a doubt, Internet is the great catalyst for breakthroughs in development and communication, and not just in Europe and the United States. Companies play their part, online sales go up, and brands solidify their presence on social media. Web analytics, the evaluation of traffic sources and optimization have become basic tools for every online platform, and, concurrently, familiarity with these tools has turned into a competitive advantage in the job market for those who have them.

We live in a digital world that is limitless and constantly yields new advances, which, in turn, stoke a parallel debate about user privacy online (though we’ll leave that topic for another day). Latin America plays an important role in surge of global development. The use of Internet is growing by leaps and bounds in the region, and the rise of JobScout demonstrates just how powerful a tool like the Internet can be when you know how to use it meaningfully.

 

JOBSCOUT: EL SITIO WEB EN EL IDIOMA Y MOMENTO INDICADO

En mi último viaje a Perú, hace menos de un año, noté muchos cambios en el estilo de vida de la gente en Lima. Por una parte, un aumento en el nivel de consumo y la capacidad adquisitiva de la población limeña; y por otra, una mayor presencia, a veces abrumadora, de la actividad comercial y campañas publicitarias en la capital. Es evidente que el crecimiento económico ha beneficiado a muchos.

El público puede disfrutar de un almuerzo o cena en alguno de los tantos nuevos y modernos restaurantes, ver una película en el cine, pasar un día en familia en uno de los bien mantenidos parques distritales, o simplemente salir a dar una vuelta pasando por uno de los no muy dispersos Starbucks en la ciudad, que dicho sea de paso ofrecen una experiencia tres veces más lujosa que en los Estados Unidos. 

En una tarde de frio, en uno de estos cafés de la popular cadena estadounidense, me encontré rodeado por jóvenes peruanos intercambiando ideas acerca de sus proyectos, académicos o profesionales, ampliamente familiarizados con la terminología cibernética en inglés, y por supuesto, cada uno y cada una con su computadora portátil de última generación. Esto no se veía antes. Y tiene sentido, pues según un informe de la firma comScore de análisis de datos de Internet, Latinoamérica registró un aumento de 12% en número de internautas en el último año, alcanzando un total de 147 millones de usuarios de Internet. La región superó así las tasas de crecimiento de uso de Internet de Europa, que creció 5%; Asia, con 7%;  y Estados Unidos y Canadá, con 1%.

A pesar de estas cifras, no todos tienen el privilegio de beneficiarse de las bondades que permite una vida preponderantemente virtual. A la par con el uso de Internet y el consumo en línea que crecen aceleradamente, surge una nueva interrogante acerca del beneficio de la calidad de vida del usuario, quien mayoritariamente se ve estimulado a consumir, y poco o nada se entera de la infinidad de recursos gratis en línea que podrían realmente generar un cambio positivo en su vida. Países como Brasil y Venezuela son claros ejemplos de la creciente tendencia de las compras en línea por parte de los latinoamericanos. De acuerdo a datos de comScore, en un periodo de tres meses, la mitad de usuarios de Internet de ambos países gastó entre US$250 y US$1.000 en compras por Internet.

El poder del consumidor latinoamericano por Internet puede bien representar un indicador de la mejora en el bienestar financiero; pero ello no constituye la totalidad del alcance de los beneficios fundamentales disponibles en la red, como por ejemplo la habilidad de usar Internet para encontrar empleo o empezar un negocio. En este contexto, nace JobScout como una respuesta a la brecha digital que afecta tanto a Latinoamérica, como al resto del mundo.

Este verano, fui convocado por TRAIL para formar parte del equipo que prepara el lanzamiento de JobScout en español en setiembre. El proyecto JobScout consiste en enseñar a sus usuarios las habilidades básicas de Internet, a través de Internet, con la finalidad de producir resultados prácticos, como por ejemplo: aprender a encontrar y solicitar empleo en línea, cómo utilizar un navegador de Internet y buscar la información deseada, crear y aprender a utilizar una cuenta de correo electrónico, saber reconocer los riesgos de compartir información públicamente, cómo familiarizarse con las políticas de privacidad en línea, compartir sus ideas y ofrecer sus servicios en las diversas comunidades en línea, entre otros.

A menudo, las estrategias de internacionalización priorizan el esfuerzo por incrementar las ventas, dejando de lado aspectos básicos como la calidad idiomática y lingüística. Poner atención a los diferentes dialectos y consideraciones culturales, es un aspecto fundamental para no subestimar las necesidades de un público objetivo al que se pretende captar. Quizá el ritmo corporativo tan acelerado y la necesidad por mantener un alto nivel de competitividad no deja mucho tiempo para el ensayo.

Por primera vez, en mi experiencia trabajando con plataformas de contenido en línea, tengo el agrado de colaborar en el lanzamiento de un producto que enseña cómo utilizar Internet, en una compañía que reconoce y valora la importancia de la calidad lingüística para un sitio web en un idioma extranjero. Me enorgullece ser parte de este importante esfuerzo y de poder compartirlo con la audiencia hispanoparlante.

Hoy en día, la información viaja en múltiples direcciones y se encuentra disponible literalmente con dos o tres clics mientras se navega por Internet. Las búsquedas detalladas de información no se limitan al uso de motores de búsqueda tradicionales; el video en línea plantea una nueva alternativa audiovisual de aprendizaje y facilita una creciente demanda por un contenido digital más específico.

Internet es, sin lugar a duda, el gran catalizador para el desarrollo y la comunicación, no solamente en Europa y Estados Unidos. Las compañías hacen lo propio, el comercio en línea crece y las marcas consolidan su presencia en las redes sociales. La analítica web, la evaluación de fuentes de tráfico y la optimización se han convertido en herramientas básicas para toda plataforma en la red; a la vez que tener experiencia en estas áreas supone una ventaja competitiva en el mercado laboral.

Vivimos en un mundo digital que no tiene límites y cada vez sorprende más con sus avances, alimentando paralelamente el debate en torno a la privacidad del usuario (tema que debe ser tratado por separado). Latinoamérica forma parte del gran impulso global del desarrollo. El uso de Internet aumenta a pasos agigantados en la región y JobScout se hace presente para evidenciar el gran aporte que puede brindar una herramienta tan poderosa como Internet, si se sabe utilizar de manera efectiva.

Dan Ledesma
Associate, Spanish Language & Media

Does Mom Really Need a LinkedIn Profile? Definitely!

Twenty-six percent of non-Internet users are Boomers. There has been some debate about how much attention should be paid to this segment of the population lacking digital literacy skills.

Since many Boomers are entering retirement age, some ask whether it is important to focus resources on teaching digital literacy skills to retirees. Does Mom really need a LinkedIn profile now? The answer is an emphatic “Definitely!”

There are a couple of reasons why digital literacy skills are essential for Boomers. First, retirement has taken on a new meaning as life expectancies have increased. Fewer and fewer retirees spend their days traveling and pursuing hobbies. More are turning this period into an opportunity to reinvent themselves professionally and pursue second careers. Whether this reinvention is born out of necessity or a second chance to pursue a dream, digital literacy skills are an essential ingredient to success.

As Boomers begin to pursue new paths, they will need the tools necessary to be successful in the new economy. They will need LinkedIn profiles to market themselves as professionals. They will need to learn how to use job search engines like Monster, Indeed and Simply Hired to find those new opportunities. They will need to know how to send an email to apply for jobs. They will also need to know about new tools available to them like Elance, TaskRabbit and Etsy that open up a new world of entrepreneurial activities.

The importance of digital literacy skills goes far beyond professional marketability. Digital literacy has become a vital ingredient to the way we manage our healthcare, the way we manage our finances and the way we engage ourselves in our communities. Failing to bring Boomers across the digital divide means preventing them from productively participating in the economy, preventing them from accessing healthcare coverage and preventing them from accessing government services.

A common misconception is that Boomers would just rather not be online. So, why should we try to help a generation of people who don’t want the help? The truth is that Boomers are just as eager to adopt Internet usage as the rest of us. The Pew Research Center reported that as of 2008, 74% of Boomers used the Internet, with 42% of those users reporting the Internet would be “very hard” to give up. So, if Boomers are so eager to become Internet users, why don’t they just start using it?

There are many reasons why someone might hesitate to start using the Internet. There are economic reasons. Broadband service is expensive as are the devices necessary to connect like computers, tablets and smartphones. The federal government, state agencies and the business community have undertaken efforts in recent years to address the economics of the digital divide by wiring our communities, offering broadband service at reduced rates and offering discounts on devices. However, this addresses only part of the problem.

Beyond economics, there is also an education element that must be addressed in order to create a new Internet user. Becoming an Internet user takes more than being given a connection and a device. Internet usage is not second nature. It is a skill that needs to be learned. Comprehensive digital literacy education is the second essential ingredient to Internet adoption. Education that shows new users how to get started using essential tools, provides information about how to manage personal security online and gives the user the tools necessary to navigate the wealth of resources the Internet provides is critical.

Education is being provided by organizations offering in-person classes at libraries and community centers. Online tools like JobScout are also providing this education and support.

However, education can also be found at home. Those of us who are digitally proficient can help those family members or friends who want to get started, but don’t know how. So, the next time Mom asks if she should have a LinkedIn profile say “Yes!” Offer to help get her started, and then show her where she can learn to use other essential Internet tools she needs to pursue her new path.

- Stephanie Margossian

Chief Operating Officer, TRAIL

Digital Literacy: A Key Component of Any Modern Public System

I have always been interested in how public organizations frame and seek to fulfill their missions, and I am often struck by the lack of concentration in marketing and communications of the public services that these organizations offer. 

Making sure that the public can access information about public services should be a major component of an organization’s strategy.  This starts with the Internet and the organization’s website. The Internet holds such incredible promise and power to inform and serve, but people first need access and then need to know how to meaningfully use it. Many do not, particularly those who most rely on our public systems.

When I worked in strategy at Public Broadcasting System (PBS), the big question we faced was how to define the role of public media in this increasingly digital era, where most media is essentially free. Now, years later, I realize that we were overlooking a pretty significant assumption: that the public has access to the Internet and the skills to meaningfully use it.

This year, I was stunned to learn that 1 in 5 Americans does not know how to use the Internet, and only 6 in 10 Americans go online wirelessly through their own devices. What’s more, in many urban, low-income communities, home broadband connectivity hovers around 40 percent.

All of this is not to say that PBS should have stuck with broadcast TV as an organizational strategy, but rather to say that there are huge gaps that need to be addressed by any public system whose mission is to address the needs of the whole community.

Take public education, for example, with recent investments in digital learning, data based practice and accountability. That’s all well and good, but what about digital literacy training for the veteran teachers and parents who will ultimately support these efforts?

In my more recent experience, working in education reform, first in the charter school movement, working for a growing network of schools focused on digital (or, as they call it, “blended”) learning, with unwaveringly high expectations for students, teachers, and administrators.  Prior to the beginning of school, we held community meetings and worked to enroll local families in school, using the computers in our school “learning” labs. I was shocked by how few of the parents (many of whom were my age) knew how to use the Internet, let alone a computer. It struck me that in introducing their children, who were as young as five years old, to technology and digital learning, we were creating a small but significant digital divide between children and their parents.

Yet, as I later learned working for a foundation with a national focus on education reform, many charters and reform-focused public school districts making significant investments in education technology are also focused on parent empowerment. So, why are these two strategic focuses – digital learning and parent empowerment – treated as if they are mutually exclusive? Why aren’t there more efforts to not only close the digital divide facing low income, minority communities but also to address the emerging digital disconnect between parents and students?

Now - - there must be some innovative social venture out there that is partnering with public systems to provide digital literacy training in a way that is engaging and relevant to them.  

That’s why I’m excited to be working for TRAIL. We know that the Internet is not just a mode of entertainment, but a vehicle to enhance and ease people’s lives through easily accessible public information and services. Our mission is to create web-based platforms that help people learn how to use the Internet specifically designed for meaningful use (i.e. to find work, manage their health and wellness, manage their finances, and participate in public life).

We have framed our mission. Now, we are hoping that our organizational partners – public systems and social service nonprofits - can help us fulfill it, and fulfill their own. If you are reading this and are one of those organizations, I would love to hear from you and begin a conversation about addressing the digital divide in your community.

-Adele McCarthy-Beauvais

Director Business & Strategic Partnerships, TRAIL

Digital Illiteracy Anonymous: Not all Millennials are online

Hello, my name is Brittany. I am 25 years old with two degrees, and I have no idea how to use a hashtag.

Due to my age and education, everyone seems to think that I am super tech savvy and have no problem navigating social media and the online job search. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Born in the 80s, technology was not always so advanced.

I still remember when my family got our first computer. It had a black screen with green-boxed lettering. Connecting to the Internet was loud and could take up to five minutes. The best games available were “Oregon Trail” and “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?.” The computer classes in my school consisted of teaching Microsoft Office and that was it. I still used card catalogs to find the books I needed in the library and mobile phones weighed more than bricks.

Today, when it comes to using the Internet, I tend to avoid things that I don’t understand. I don’t have a Tumblr or a Pintrest account. I have a Twitter account, but have no idea how to use it. Until I took the JobScout lesson on social media, I had no idea what a hashtag was or how to use it. LinkedIn is overwhelming. It is a daily trial and error to figure out how to properly leverage networks online. Let’s just forget about coding or website design. However, this all concerns me because my lack of knowledge is detrimental to my 21st century job search.

Truth be told, I was born at the very beginning of the tech generation. It is a skill that I acquired outside of my formal education, and only because I am lucky enough to have access to the technology.

When a person of 25 with two Masters degrees is not always comfortable online and is intimidated by the online job search process, there is definitely a gap in the current education system. I have not had a practical or useful technology class that ensures the success of students in the 21st century. Instead, we get tossed into the deep end of the pool. We are expected to know how to swim, or we face embarrassment if we don’t know the newest microblogging site or mobile app.

What worries me the most is not just that schools are not properly teaching students how to use the Internet for practical purposes, such as finding information, a job or even banking. It is that if students do not have access to the technology outside of school, their chances at a level playing field are slim to none. Not only will our top U.S. students no longer be able to compete with students from countries that emphasize technology education, but there will also be a growing inequality in education and opportunity here at home.

While I have been lucky enough to have access to technology, and to end up working at a tech startup, like TRAIL that teaches people about technology everyday, that is not the case for many young Americans. I just hope that people remember that regardless of age, technology has a steep learning curve. I can only hope that moving forward we find a way to ensure that students are taught to use the Internet for practical purposes to improve their own lives and compete on a global scale. 

-Brittany Smith

Associate Business & Strategic Partnerships, TRAIL 

Life Skills, Internet Lessons & A Need for Reform

Over my two years working at TRAIL, I have discussed the topics of Internet accessibility, the importance of a core set of digital literacy skills, and how these two factors relate to the economy, in particular, the job market, with many people from all walks of life.

In the American education system, students are required to read, internalize and report (sometimes in great length) on classic pieces of literature, but who prepares our youth for their post-education (or even part-time summer) jobhunt? How do they learn to create a resume, cover letter or even properly and safely apply for a job online? The truth is, there are no such national programs or systems in place. And, in effect, many people grow up with the Internet as a part of their daily lives, but for fun, not functionality.

All too often here at TRAIL, we receive messages from people who believe our organization is calling, texting and emailing them incessantly and without regard to title, topic, time or subject. As it turns out, we have no such capabilities, and I always connect with people who call to report such issues, using information they provide, and inform them that they contacted the wrong company. What I found when talking with these people surprised me.

The responses of frustration were of no surprise, and it was all I could do to empathize with them and see if there was any quick advice I could spare to help them in their journey. While most were savvy enough on the Internet to seek out our company, find the “Help” page and contact us, many lacked the career skills needed to present themselves professionally online. In other words, they knew how to browse Facebook, but when asked about having a resume, many didn’t even know where to start.

A few weeks ago, I received such a call from a mother in Massachusetts. Angered that she was hounded by phone calls from rude service agents, she contacted us for an apology when she thought we were the source of these interactions. Two things she said still resonate with me. First, she told me„ “If that’s how your customer service agents treat people, then hire me. Because I really need a job, and I can certainly do theirs better than they can.” I was briefly taken aback by her willingness to apply for a job at a company she knew was harassing people such as herself.

Upon calling her to explain the situation and offer some assistance, I could hear her children in the background, and she said something else that caught me off guard.

“I need a job so bad right now. I would literally amputate my left leg for any paying wage in order to support my family.” Now, we all may have heard, or even used, the “give my left leg” bit before, but this was different. I believed her. I could hear the pain in her voice as she explained to me her situation. She was frustrated after going onto Google, typing in keywords, like “job search” and  applying to anything and everything.

Empathetic to her situation, I offered up the best advice I could with some tips about which online forums are safe and which will take her information and use it against her.

When the conversation turned to a resume, she had nothing to say. She was never shown how to create one, what to put in it or where to even start. A mother of three, desperately looking for consistent work to provide for her family, savvy in terms of using mobile devices and the Internet in daily life for fun, but not functionality. She had no education to speak of on the subject.

Of course, I let her know that is exactly what our platform does, help people like herself properly navigate the Internet, create a professional resume and search online for jobs on safe and secure websites. Yet, it still felt like it was not enough.

This nation, as strong as it may be, as high tech as it may seem, is still behind the curve in offering modern life skills education. While this has opened up niche markets for companies like ours to jump in and create products designed to help people with such issues, it is too large of a problem to fix with a handful of products. It will require a national understanding of the issues and an outcry for essential digital literacy and life skills education reform.

In the meantime, I will continue to inform the public about both the problems and solutions, one person at a time if need be.

-Josh Bradley

Director of Marketing & Platform Satisfaction, TRAIL

Kicking Off Our Conversation on JobScout & Digital Literacy

A few weeks ago, I had a Letter to the Editor, Broadband for the Masses, published in The New York Times. That piece was brief view into our team’s commitment to digital literacy learning and its importance globally. I wanted to take the opportunity to share my passion for digital literacy, and my belief that we can work as a country to bring the digital illiteracy rate to single digits.

Each week for the next few months, a member from our team will share their experiences with TRAIL and JobScout. We have had the opportunity to work with organizations and users across the country and want to share our insights.

- Christina Gagnier

The conversation on digital inclusion, addressing the “Digital Divide,” has jumped the shark: our national conversation began by talking about infrastructure, such as broadband, transitioned for a moment to the proliferation of devices and device accessibility and leapt to pushing the merits and necessity of MOOC’s and coding skills.

While all of these are a part of addressing the Digital Divide, the lack of basic Internet skills, the failure of over 60 million Americans to be digitally literate, is an endemic problem with few solutions being advanced, policy or otherwise. Digital illiteracy is a national problem when 22% of Americans cannot get online due to a lack of basic Internet skills.

The ability to open a browser, conduct a search, send an email or connect with an old friend on a social network are all too often taken for granted. Engaging in some of these online activities may not seem critical, but they are fundamental to one’s participation in the information economy. Online skills are not only necessary for seeking, applying for, and getting today’s jobs, but also to take advantage of the growing educational, civic and healthcare advances spurred by broadband.

Statistics show stark demographic disparities in digital literacy. Senior citizens, Spanish speakers, adults with less than a high school education and those living in low-income households are the least likely adults to have Internet access. Ten percent fewer Hispanics and African-Americans use the Internet than Caucasians.

Moreover, only 6 in 10 Americans go online wirelessly with one of their own devices, so public institutions are serving a crucial need in providing access to the American public. Do they have the resources and the tools to provide Internet literacy education to those who need it most? 

In California, the California State Library took a critical leadership role by supporting and partnering on digital literacy projects such as JobScout. By using every library in California as an outlet to provide digital literacy resources and support on and offline, a replicable model was created for what should be a national plan to bring these 60 million Americans online.

The advances in online education, the proliferation of massive open online courses (MOOC’s) and the push for coding skills to be embedded in even primary education are a critical part of the larger picture of accessibility and education. Yet, these 60 million Americans needs to master what a URL is before they can even began to understand what something such as HTML even means. 

While the failure to push the needle forward on digital literacy has direct economic and social consequences when it comes to employment, healthcare and civic engagement, it also has normative consequences. We Like, Tweet, Tumble, vlog and Share. The amount of shared content, shared online language and, arguably, collective intelligence, is missed by 22% of Americans. In a nation that values diversity as well as shared experiences, our failure to tackle digital literacy head on is a tragic exclusion.

The relationship between the digital divide and broadband often leads to a conversation about how America stacks up to the rest of the world. The question posed is “Can we remain competitive?” How can we talk about remaining competitive when we fail to give people the tools to help us compete? Advances in broadband and device penetration must be accompanied by digital literacy initiatives aimed at bringing millions of Americans online.

It is easy to stereotype the members of the 22% as those who are of an older generation or simply do not want to be online. How does that account for the Millennial high school student looking for their first job or the hard working families having to seek new employment for the first time as decades-old industries disappear? How will this account for the 20 million people in the United States who are currently over the age of 65, many of whom may no longer have the option to retire and will need to remain in or re-enter the workforce?

Perhaps more timely, what becomes of the Americans who will not be able to access the healthcare exchange system rolling out in six months across the United States, with the goal of increasing access to healthcare coverage?

The Internet is the critical tool for navigating our modern world. Our conversation twenty years from now about how we handled this problem at this impasse will not be about a few missed cat videos on YouTube. It will be about the millions of people we left behind and the billions of opportunities we missed as a country.

Today, Paul continued his journey on the “Cup of Joe & a Job Search” Tour with a stop at the Yolo County Library!! For more information on the “Cup of Joe and a JobSearch” Tour and for complete tour dates, check out our story!http://jobscout.tumblr.com/post/51771432409/acupofjoe

Today, Paul continued his journey on the “Cup of Joe & a Job Search” Tour with a stop at the Yolo County Library!!

For more information on the “Cup of Joe and a JobSearch” Tour and for complete tour dates, check out our story!

http://jobscout.tumblr.com/post/51771432409/acupofjoe