Ending confusion about "Luddites", leaders, laggards and the NEO New Economy

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sun, 04/17/2005 - 14:45.

Good news was published in the 04.13.05 Cleveland Plain Dealer about a program called "Computer Learning In My Back Yard" (see below) to provide more computer training to disadvantaged area residents. The article points out that while around 85% of Americans have Internet access at home, less than 50% of Clevelanders are connected. This is an essential program for Northeast Ohio to rebound from the grip of our old economy depression, but a premise of the article - "to transform Cleveland's Luddites into digital literates" - is telling of why we are in this sorry state. "Luddite" is a modern term for " one who opposes technological change", and that is not an accurate description of the common residents of NEO - nothing indicates that they oppose technology. Rather, the area Luddites are those in command and control positions who for too long have failed to grasp the fact that all area residents must have ready access to mainstream information technology to participate in the new economy. Thus, as we begin testing tightly controlled programs in limited areas of Cleveland, "Philadelphia on Monday started free classes for everyone from well-off architects to high school dropouts. That state-supported program wants to help establish basic digital mastery for the entire work force, which will attract businesses into the city, said Carole Smith, executive director of the Mayor's Commission on Technology in Philadelphia." Read on, and realize more must be done, and immediately.

Technology takes on poverty - Computer training program aims to fill jobs with Clevelanders
Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - Chris Seper - Plain Dealer Reporter

An intense new training program hopes to transform Cleveland's Luddites into digital literates and, in some cases, find them jobs.

This pilot project, which starts next month, is an effort by the city and local nonprofit organizations to attack Cleveland's bulging poverty numbers and woeful technology gap by targeting the lower rungs. It's one of several ways major cities are tinkering with certification programs to ensure their work forces have basic computer skills.

Cleveland's Computer Learning In My Back Yard program won't spawn the next Bill Gates. Instead it will try to create top-flight office assistants and call-center workers, help employees win promotions through newfound computer prowess and help employers easily identify tech-savvy job applicants.

"We know people need more education," said Bill Callahan, director of Cleveland's Digital Vision, a coalition of technology centers in the city. "We know people need job training. We know people need to connect with employers. We know they need to combine their skills. This program attempts to get all those things together at the community level."

The program will teach an international curriculum known as the Internet and Computing Core Certification, or IC3. Cuyahoga Community College is helping with the classes, and CLIMB will include a financial literacy class via the Cleveland Housing Network.

The class ends with a battery of certification tests. Anyone who passes can then buy a low-cost computer and Internet access.

The city is also negotiating with a few companies to hire or provide internships to the classes' best students, said Melodie Mayberry-Stewart, Cleveland's chief technology officer.

Organizers say the training will require about 80 hours of class time, comparable to a semester-long class.

If the class succeeds, the city wants to offer the sessions in every city ward, Mayberry-Stewart said.

Cleveland - and particularly its poor - lag the national average for Internet access. Up to 85 percent of the country has Internet access in the home, according to a 2004 U.S. Department of Commerce report. But less than half of Cleveland has such access, according to 2003 census figures and local technology advocates.

Poorer Clevelanders are the lone target for the classes. The $600,000 program is only for residents of the city's Empowerment Zones - distressed areas classified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Empowerment zone cash will pay for the project this year, and city officials hope private-sector donations will pay for it after that.

Other cities are also experimenting with technology certifications to either eradicate poverty or improve their residents' tech IQ.

Philadelphia on Monday started free classes for everyone from well-off architects to high school dropouts. That state-supported program wants to help establish basic digital mastery for the entire work force, which will attract businesses into the city, said Carole Smith, executive director of the Mayor's Commission on Technology in Philadelphia.

No one is sure how well Cleveland's approach will work. An 80-hour class is unheard-of for the people who run and use these community centers and it may be a difficult commitment for many of the target audience, which includes single parents trying to juggle jobs, children and housing.

But students are already lining up in Cleveland. Professionals in suits who want tech skills to get a promotion were sitting with high school dropouts planning to use the class as a stepping stone to a degree during an orientation at the Famicos Foundation in Hough on Cleveland's East Side.

Community centers involved in the project are hosting orientation classes to make sure people are prepared for the 80-hour commitment. Students say they are ready.

"I know that if I want to get a good job, I need to know this," said Jacqueline Boyd, who recently started using the Internet to file Avon sales orders. "I really want to learn this and go on to school."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: cseper [at] plaind [dot] com, 216-999-4169

© 2005 The Plain Dealer