In the 21st century, digital literacy is no longer a luxury – it’s a necessity. Every day, we’re becoming more reliant on technology to accomplish basic tasks, from making doctors’ appointments, to paying bills, to applying for jobs, to communicating with friends and family. The ability to use computers and access, create, and share digital content is critical to thriving at work and in our daily lives. More than 8 in 10 jobs require some level of digital competency. Yet, according to a Pew Research Center report, 10% of American adults say they do not use the internet. That figure is higher for Hispanics and seniors: 14% of Hispanic adults in the U.S. and 27% of those 65 and older say that they do not use the internet. Household income is also a factor affecting internet adoption. Adults from lower income households are more likely to be offline than more affluent adults.

Here in Chicago – despite being a hotspot for innovation where the growth rate of tech startups has nearly tripled over the past decade – many communities are faced with these issues of digital exclusion. For the city to thrive it is imperative to train and upskill the current workforce to meet tomorrow’s needs. To do this, Verizon and Unidos.US have joined forces to build digital learning centers in major cities, starting with Chicago. The Chicago center is located at Northwest Side Housing in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood and is equipped with mobile technology, an educational curriculum, and professional services to help program participants become digitally competent in the workplace. The centers will also offer child care and lunches for those enrolled. Verizon and UnidosUS will also launch similar learning centers in Lawrenceville, Massachusetts, Seattle, Washington, and New Orleans, Louisiana.

Cities like Chicago are doing their part to combine efforts of local government, private companies and non-profits to take action to foster workforce readiness for underserved populations. For example, one group, the Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition, has partnered with more than 15 local organizations to improve health and digital literacy among underrepresented groups. The coalition provides a free, one-year subscription to a digital literacy testing service aimed at older residents of the city. The service offers online training through personalized learning programs, and sets users up for success in our increasingly tech-based workforce.

These types of efforts along with Verizon and UnidosUS’s launch of new digital learning centers have the power to make a real impact on the workforce at a time when digital literacy skills are more crucial than ever. As our society becomes more digital, we must ensure that no community is left behind. By continuing to promote the effective initiatives funded by the city of Chicago, private companies, NGOs and others, we can help bridge the digital divide and prepare more residents for meaningful careers.

Janet Murguía is President and CEO of UnidosUS; Craig Silliman is EVP and chief administrative, legal and public policy officer of Verizon

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