This section considers a variety of approaches to the development of appropriate skill sets.
Many customers will require support at some point, and customer care skills will require some development in the context of digital services. In addition, there'll be some need to support staff as well as customers to provide feedback for the improvement of digital services. If the housing organisation opens its social media support to more than the marketing staff (probably essential to success, given that front line staff know what's going on on the ground, which is what customers will find relevant in a social media landscape) some confirmation of understanding of what's appropriate when should be confirmed. Pretty much all of this can be catered for in the form of induction and on-the job training.
A pre-requisite for successful participation in digital life for customers is functional literacy. The wider role played by housing organisations will often include, especially in areas characterised by multiple deprivation, a basic lack of literacy skills. There are two important aspects to considering this: firstly, literacy support can often be best delivered in the context of digital technology, because the literacy barrier is a real digital barrier, and the digital world opening at the same time as literacy skills development can provide a powerful incentive to learn, and secondly, there are digital tools which can support literacy development (for example text prediction services and spell-check and thesaurus functions in both office software and browsers).
The national basic digital skills definition is outlined and more information linked to at the Go On /Dot Everyone Basic Digital Skills Definition section. Whether for customers or staff, there's a need to develop essential skills enabling the management of information, communication (see consideration of literacy above), transactions, problem solving and the creation of information content.
There are three main approaches which can be taken to supporting customer digital skills development:
Flexible drop-in support services
The great advantage of drop-in, flexible learning support services is that the learning is naturally tailored to individual need, providing immediate reinforcement of learning through its application to individual interest. The disadvantage can be unpredictability of attendance, lack of opportunity to prepare for the learning support (although at introductory skills level, this is less an issue, especially if the support is confident enough for 'I don't know, but I'll find out just now with you'). Queens Cross Housing Association has found that drop-in support is more effective with most people, and Glasgow Kelvin College has long used flexible learning for IT skills development in most of its community settings.
The advantage of structured classes is that a group of people can make progress together, supporting and encouraging each other to a degree. Queens Cross Housing Association has found this more effective when working with people whose motivation is support for skills required for job seeking. One significant disadvantage is that a skilled tutor can only get the pace right for the average in the group, and the approach is significantly less successful unless the group has a similar starting point, similar interest, good attendance and similar aptitudes.
Whether supported through flexible drop-in support services or structured classes, one important issue is the importance or otherwise of certification.
If the aim is lessening isolation, for example, for people in retirement, by means of supporting the skills needed to maintain contact with relatives and friends, then confirmation that the skills are being deployed and isolation is lessened is enough to achieve the outcome (although confirmation that they know about spam mail and scams etc. should be part of the package). An internal checklist used with participants to confirm outcomes would support the learning aims, and there's no need for external recognition.
However, whether customer or staff skills development is undertaken, for many external recognition of the skills is important, especially when part of the motivation is improved or new employment prospects.
Most housing organisations will require partnership with external agencies for external skills accredited recognition, whether as part of its programmes or to support a recognised certification progression opportunity. Thenue Housing Association, Connect Community Trust, GHA, Calvay Housing Association and others work with Glasgow Kelvin College to support accredited learning as part of their digital inclusion programmes for customers, for example.
The Statement of Ambition for Adult Learning in Scotland aims that adult learning in Scotland should be the best in the world (and why not?), should be learner centred (see notes on flexible approaches above), lifelong (necessary in a changing world driven by rapid technological advances) - and life wide (reflecting the aspirations of housing organisations who see a wider role than being landlords). It recognises the importance of supporting people to "develop their digital literacy to participate in digital civic society", to "have access to, and take advantage of, flexible learning opportunities (including online learning)" and aims towards the development of "an adult learning support framework" in which "adult learning in communities ... offers pathways to Scotland’s further and higher education institutions and to employment and volunteering opportunities".
The framework which supports this progression to further learning and to enhanced employability is the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework. The main provider of accredited outcomes in Scotland is the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) which supports the majority of formal qualifications, but in the world of digital skills the British Computer Society is also important, for both the well known European Computer Driving Licence or the lesser known and newer, introductory Digital Skills and Computer and Online Basics.
In Scotland, SQA (one of the signatories of the Digital Participation Charter) recognises the growing importance of digital rather than just office skills in the form of two new National Progression Awards (NPAs): Digital Literacy at SCQF level 3 and the Digital Passport at SCQF levels 4, 5 and 6, and these awards are now beginning to be offered by colleges, who can make natural skills development partners for housing organisations.
NPA Digital Literacy at SCQF level 3 has three units:
- Digital Computing;
- Digital Numeracy; and
- Digital Communication.
NPA Digital Passport at levels 4, 5 and 6 sits alongside and complements the PC Passport qualification which focuses still on Office software skills (which significantly enhance employability). The qualification at each of these levels supports and recognises:
- Social Media Literacy;
- Network Literacy; and
- Information literacy.
Significantly, the newly revamped National Progression Award PC Passport still focuses on skills development with Office software, but has moved away from desktop software to the use of cloud-based online office software like Office.com, bringing it very up to date. This is important partly because the opportunity now exists for skills development which can be deployed in local community settings, in small enterprises, in tenants' associations etc. without the need for much more of a PC than that required for a reasonable experience browsing the Internet, and with a skill set which includes the use of cloud-based storage and file sharing, all provided without charge: