INTOUCH : Boosting Kiwi productivity

Accountants who can’t use Excel spreadsheets, students who manually count the words in their essays, good employees rejected because they lack specific computer skills….
There’s black hole of need in New Zealanders’ computer competence and it could be major contributor to this country’s problems with low productivity. That’s according to Pam Martin, who was so concerned about the widespread holes in IT knowledge that she’s written book on the subject.
Beneath the Knowledge Wave is bit of reality check on how people are actually using the much-vaunted technology designed to lift us out of the economic doldrums – and the picture isn’t pretty, says Martin.
“What got me is that people haven’t asked the question. When you read all this knowledge wave stuff, nobody asked whether the working population can actually use computers. They all assumed that because we sit in front of one every day, we know what to do – and I discovered we don’t.”
In fact, most computer users are self taught, discovering the basics in patchy manner and often totally unaware of software tools that could save them lot of time – and money.
“People have kind of learned by osmosis but nobody gets the full picture,” says Martin.
This was something of revelation to her when she started her own small training company that offered computer training to working people. She’d previously worked in community education but realised the training it offered was often too general for those doing every-day keyboard work who needed more flexible programme.
“I started off thinking I was helping few women over 30 who’d missed out at school, but it turned into this black hole that goes right up to top level management.”
Some of the stories of bluffs and unwitting mistakes, she says, would make your hair curl. “But beyond the laughter of shared experiences there is real danger to the New Zealand economy…”
And contrary to popular belief, it isn’t just older folk who are missing out on basic computing skills – the problem is population wide, says Martin.
“That’s what frightens me – it goes from school leavers who are very confident but not always competent, right through to retirees.”
So she’s decided to take further action with the launch of “Kiwi computer challenge” that aims to have one million people gaining an internationally recognised “computer driving licence” within five years.
“We’ll run it like competition to engage that New Zealand competitive spirit and have some fun. Get people to tell their stories, admit what they don’t know and then do something about it.”
The training can be done online so it’s very flexible and at least one organisation – Tauranga City Council – has proved how easily it can be done. It is about to present its 1000th certificate.
“Even the littlest companies can get involved – and even if we don’t reach the target, we’ll be ahead of other countries because nobody else has done it,” says Martin.
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