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SHRM Report: How to Ensure Latino Workers Aren't Left Behind in the Digital Economy

A business woman using a tablet computer in an office.

​There has never been a greater demand for digital skills in the workplace. But while some workers have access to the expertise to excel in a more digital-oriented workplace, others do not.

Many underrepresented groups—particularly Latino workers—may get left behind if they aren't equipped with the necessary tools and support to build these skills, according to a new joint report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C.

"The digital skills landscape is constantly evolving, and many organizations are finding it difficult to keep up with the rapid pace of change," said lead researcher Casey Sword, a senior specialist with SHRM. "When it comes to the Latino workforce, our research shows that organizations face unique challenges, such as employee access to digital resources and digital upskilling."

The survey of 844 HR professionals in eight cities with sizable Latino populations revealed that organizations with a larger percentage of Latino workers were:

  • More likely to report that employees' lack of access to digital resources and a lack of training in software or programs in languages other than English make it more difficult for them to support their workers' digital skills development.
  • More likely to say that training employees on new tools and technologies has been a major challenge for their organization.

Further studies indicate that Latinos in the U.S. are lagging other groups in digital skills. Federal data shows that Latino employees will account for nearly 8 in 10 of net new workers between 2020 and 2030, but they are also at increased risk of facing job displacement due to a lack of digital skills.

The Need for Digital Upskilling

In an era increasingly reliant on computer literacy, employers covet workers with digital skills. Digital literacy can enhance an organization's efficiency, boost brand awareness and support return on investment.

The SHRM report measured the most in-demand digital skills among organizations, which include:

  • Computer literacy (56 percent).
  • Data entry (54 percent).
  • Word processing (42 percent).
  • Social media skills (39 percent).

Over the next five years, HR professionals anticipate a rise in the demand for more technical digital skills, including those related to:

  • Data analytics (49 percent).
  • Social media (48 percent).
  • Cybersecurity (41 percent).
  • Digital design and data visualization (40 percent).

However, organizations face myriad challenges in finding talent and ensuring their existing workforce is adequately equipped with the necessary digital skills.

Among HR professionals surveyed:

  • 58 percent said their budget for digital upskilling did not change during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Time (52 percent) and budget (43 percent) constraints were the largest barriers to supporting their employee's digital skills development.
  • 45 percent are struggling to upskill their existing workforce for positions that require digital skills.
  • 38 percent said their employees showed an unwillingness to learn new digital skills.
  • 37 percent expressed troubles training employees on new tools and technologies.

Joe Anthony, founder of marketing company Hero Collective in New York City, said digital inequity is a crisis that disproportionately impacts communities of color.

"Latinos and Black [workers] are unprepared for the economy of tomorrow because they're not being educated and introduced to the technologies reshaping our society and its economy," he said.

Anthony added that the costs associated with receiving the type of education needed to compete in the economy will exclude millions of diverse citizens from being able to adequately participate "unless we see significant subsidies and government-funded programs built to close the digital inequity gaps."

How to Address the Digital Skills Gap Among Latino Workers

Most organizations already provide programs to support their workers' digital skills development, including on-the-job training (75 percent), informal training by supervisors or co-workers (73 percent) and occupation-specific training (59 percent), the SHRM report found.

However, only about half of organizations that offer these programs believe they have been very effective. Researchers surmised that a one-size-fits-all approach may not be the most effective method when it comes to organizations training their workforce.

"Fourteen percent of HR professionals say that Latino workers' participation in voluntary skills development programs is lower than other workers'," Sword said. "To maximize the impact of their current and future digital skills development efforts, organizations may consider customized approaches that are tailored to employees' specific needs as well as community-based resources and training."

Organizations should think proactively about the digital skills of the future and prepare their workforce for potential shifts, Sword noted. A few ways organizations can better engage Latino employees in the digital age include:

  • Partnering with local or community-based organizations.
  • Providing training in languages other than English.
  • Building rapport with workers of different cultures.

HR professionals also cited additional supports that would help them upskill or reskill their Latino workforce:

  • Tools to guide the development of in-house digital skills training programs (36 percent).
  • Information about online digital skills certificate programs (36 percent).
  • Tools to support partnership development with local training providers (30 percent).

"By equipping every employee with the right tools and resources to thrive in the digital economy, organizations are not only better prepared to meet their digital skills needs," Sword explained, "they are providing opportunities for employees and the wider community reach their full potential."


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