reWorking Michigan: Non-profits train novice computer users

Lansing, MI – Getting a job in today's market can be challenging for anyone. But imagine trying to get a job when you don't know how to use a computer. Imagine trying to do anything without knowledge of computers. As part of our reWorking Michigan series, WKAR's Emanuele Berry explores how some local programs are offering relief to the digitally distressed.

The Information Technology Empowerment Center, or I-TEC, typically works with youth and adults to promote IT skills. I-TEC's new federally funded program, Everyday Digital, is expanding its outreach to novice computer users.

The five-week class is designed to help underemployed and unemployed people learn about internet technology, operating systems, software and maintenance.

"Lansing is strong in IT and yet we have a big segment of our community that doesn't have the basic skills to participate in the economy."

Kirk Riley is the Executive Director of I-TEC. Riley says I-TEC works closely with local employers to develop a program that teaches marketable computer skills. But he says one of the biggest challenges to getting people trained, is getting them to overcome their fear of the technology.

"We work with a lot of partners to break down the barrier that people feel towards computers," Riley says. "And in breaking down this barrier they can fully participate in the digital age."

Robert Nelsen teaches a computer class at Eagalevision Ministries. Eaglevision offers resources for dislocated workers, including computer classes. Nelson says students learn how to use online tools for job searches, resumes, and social networking.

"I would say about 60% of the jobs are done online when applying and so one of the things that prevents them from employment is the fact that they can't function online or function on the computer," says Nelson.

Joe Martin is enrolled at Eagalevision. Martin says he was looking for "a leg up" even though he started the course with some computer knowledge. He had worked in retail using older computer systems. Eaglevision provided him with the assistance he needed to finishes his associate's degree. "Right now we're working on sending email," he says. "What to be aware of when you send in email applications, because once you send an email, there's no taking it back."

Eaglevision Chief Executive Officer LaClaire Bouknight says the digital revolution has passed over entire populations. And she says programs like hers can change the role computers play in people's lives.

"The light goes on when they learn," says Bouknight. "Oh I can use a mouse oh I can do email. Oh look. All of the sudden hope starts to rise. And we won't make it without hope. I think there's got to be a hook to kind of tie in and make them hopeful that you know that you can get a job."

There are about a half-dozen agencies offering digital literacy classes in mid-Michigan. Eagalevision is currently working with IBM to upgrade the technology they use in their computer classes. I-TEC is renovating a space in Lansing's Foster Community Center and plans on opening in September.