Setting the Context
It’s impossible to quantify the extent to which technology has personally and professionally shaped our lives, and for most, this change makes our lives easier, safer, and less demanding (aside from the recent drive to “switch off”). For a group within society, our reliance on computers publicizes literacy issues, including digital literacy, raising anxiety and hampering social inclusivity. Paradoxically, this leaves people both hiding the issue from colleagues, e.g., avoiding certain tasks, but places the employer in the best position to identify and offer them support. Identifying this problem in certain work environments, the Irish Government planned and funded the Explore Initiative in 2018 in the VET sector. Our College, Colaiste Dhulaigh (CDCFE), part of the City of Dublin Education and Training Board (CDETB) has been one of the colleges in Ireland who has worked with our local Dublin Regional Skills Manager, Natasha Kinsella, to undertake this opportunity with our local employers for the last three years.
What is the ‘Explore Initiative’
This is an opportunity designed to target and encourage older employees in low digital usage environments to engage with lifelong learning and to future proof their business and their own careers by upskilling. Explore criteria includes participants of at least 35 years of age, employed as general operatives within production, manufacturing or similar industries, and identified as having low, or no digital competence. Each company involved nominates a maximum of six people and the funding allows for the college to present each with a laptop. In addition to the free training for employees at no monetary cost to them or the company, employers are asked to release their nominees for a total of two days over six weeks, for an induction and an industrial visit day, and for approximately one and a half hours each week at a time that suits them for sessions with a tutor.
At induction, participants meet as a group and are introduced to the Explore Initiative and staff. Each person is issued with a new laptop and, alongside our Technologist, are taught to turn the device on and off, connect to Wi-Fi, and access the internet and Zoom prior to the next “onsite” or remote tutoring session. This year, we included the TeamViewer software which allowed our IT staff to connect remotely to each device at a time that suited the learner. A Wellbeing Professional spoke about learning and neuroplasticity, emphasizing the brains capacity to learn at any stage in life; much like a muscle, the more you use it the easier it gets. Understandably, the prospect of reentering education for a person who had a poor experience or has been out of the system a long time would make even the hardiest quite uneasy. Thus, providing this holistic and informal approach to learning through flexibility, social and psychological support, and reassurance was crucial for a person attempting something new.
As many know, working with adults means they bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table so it’s important for all adult learning curriculum to maintain personal relevance and nurture experience. As such, Explore requires participants to complete two projects, one personal and one professional. Although both must involve the use of technology, the personal project is based on the learner’s interest in that they choose their own topic to work on. In the past, this involved creating a family tree, a health spreadsheet through Microsoft Excel, and more recently, an Anxiety and Autism Guide based on their children’s experiences. Within the professional project, Explore offers participants the opportunity to share ideas they have, individually or as a small group, aiming to improve the workplace in terms of safety, wellbeing, productivity, or cost-savings. Experienced workers are the experts in their role and may have great ideas but lack voice. With ongoing support these ideas are presented using Microsoft PowerPoint and shared with their nominator in the last session, after plenty of mental preparation! Previous submissions included digitalizing company stock lists and uploading to the Cloud (yes, by Explore participants!), improving scheduling and communication to reduce time-wastage, and more recently, creating workplace signage for hazard reduction. More importantly, following completion of administration, the participants own the devices they have used throughout!
THE EXPLORE INITIATIVE CAN BE A FIRST STEP IN LIFELONG LEARNING, A REMINDER THAT IT’S NOT OVER YET
This year, CDCFE proactively linked the Explore Initiative to the Adult Education Service and Skills to Advance within the college. Based on this approach, we were delighted to hear that a group of participants contacted these services and were considering furthering their education. The Explore Initiative can be a first step in lifelong learning, a reminder that it’s not over yet; it’s a chance to demonstrate that teaching has changed, and it offers the platform within Further Education and Training to progress.
Finally, we want to thank all the companies, staff and particularly the participants involved this year, and previously, who worked hard throughout the initiative and pushed through mental barriers to make another positive contribution and to conclude another successful Explore 2021.