Goodwill, Google Team on North Carolina Digital Equity Work

Companies and job seekers alike are navigating a changing digital landscape. And North Carolina is particularly vulnerable, said Melinda Bernard, digital skills coordinator for Goodwill of Central North Carolina.

by Kenwyn Caranna, News & Record / October 25, 2019
Shutterstock/Sundry Photography

(TNS) — Having trouble keeping up with all things digital?

Fearful you might not be able to keep up?

You’re not alone.

Companies and job seekers alike are navigating the ever-changing digital landscape. And North Carolina is particularly vulnerable, said Melinda Bernard, digital skills coordinator for Goodwill Industries of Central North Carolina.

“North Carolina was listed as one of the states most vulnerable to the impact created by automation,” Bernard said, citing a study released early this year by the Brookings Institution.

Bernard oversees Goodwill’s new Digital Skills Center at 3519 N. Elm St., designed to help job seekers become more digital savvy to get jobs or move into better positions.

Jomaira Ortiz, digital skills program specialist at Goodwill Industries International, said “while the Triad’s economy has historically been tied to textiles, furniture and tobacco, new growth industries are rapidly emerging, including distribution, logistics, biotechnology, aviation and aerospace.

“Simply put, this equates opportunity,” she said.

But to take advantage of those opportunities, workers will need more digital skills.

And even looking for those jobs requires computer skills.

Kelly Hammonds of Jamestown went to the Digital Skills Center planning to just update her resume.

Hammonds, who has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Livingstone College, had worked for a couple of Fortune 500 companies in New York before returning to North Carolina to help her aging grandparents in 2005.

After her grandmother died in 2017, she started looking for work.

The 48-year-old found she had a lot of catching up to do just searching for a job she wanted.

“The application process changed 100%,” Hammonds said. “I was still going into companies asking for a paper application.”

Working with Bernard, Hammonds not only brushed up her existing skills, but she also learned how to create a new email account, how to use Google Drive, how to handle telephone and video interviews and what types of questions to expect.

She said it opened up a lot of doors in her job search, including narrowing down positions she was interested in.

“I’ve been turning down jobs,” said Hammonds, who started her job as a driver for Amazon last week. “It is so awesome. I didn’t even know that they had this type of program — and it’s free.”

Hammonds’ experience is part of the Goodwill Digital Career Accelerator, a $10 million, three-year initiative funded by a grant from Google.

The program aims to help more than 1 million people nationwide enhance and expand their digital skills and increase digital awareness.

Company Perspective

Job seekers aren’t the only ones navigating how to ride the wave of technology.

Government, education and company leaders also are trying to figure out how to use it and incorporate it into their workflow.

Success comes from a mindset of adaptability, inclusivity, collaboration, diversity and old-fashioned communication skills, according to a panel assembled by Triad Goodwill for its TechKnow Summit on Thursday. The symposium was sponsored by Goodwill at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering.

“It is incredibly difficult to keep up,” said Kevin Lawe, who works in the IT group at Lincoln Financial Group. “We rapidly, probably in the last four years now, really embraced kind of a digital approach. … And that was truly needed to change the mindset from our … pen and paper mentality that we had in the organization.”

Among the results was making the company’s services easier to access on customers’ cellphones.

Jim Brady, president of Brady Family of Companies, traced how his company went from selling and servicing Trane air conditioning units to providing “smart building” technology, which allows companies to monitor and reduce energy use.

“We can manage buildings in downtown Greensboro, or Australia or Dubai from afar because all we need is an internet connection to take those disparate systems, bring them back to our command center in Greensboro and monitor how well they’re tracking as far as the energy efficiency,” Brady said.

The company has partnered with SAS to enhance its technical capabilities.

“We have to have partnerships because we can’t do it all ourselves,” Brady said.

The company also has completed a project with the N.C. Department of Transportation to retrofit 14,000 light fixtures into LED lighting and tie them to a computer monitoring system to determine when and where lights are out on state highways. Brady said it will save the state $52 million over the life of the 15-year project.

“You’ve got to have an agile leadership team,” Brady said. “You’ve got to be able to try new things and you’ve got to be willing to fail fast,” he said, referring to the ability to learn from company mistakes and move forward.

Gary Graham of Graham Personnel Services said his company’s internal staff is about 30 people. He has an expert who teaches his employees how to use the company’s software.

“We’re not large enough to invest in an innovation center yet, so our team’s having to adapt daily to the new software and to the technology that we’re bringing in, and it’s working well,” he said.

And, although older employees often are having to adapt to new technology, the reverse also is true.

“Some of the younger generations coming through are expecting everything to be on their mobile phone, because that’s the generation that they’ve grown up in — everything is right there at their fingertips,” said Doug McMillian of Cone Health. “It would be nice if it was, but we’re not there yet. So, you have to also almost down train them because they’re a little bit more advanced.”

©2019 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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