Bridging the digital divide

THE revolution will go down in history as having lost as many fortunes as it made. However, the infrastructure that remains in place for further IT&T development confirms that the public, government and business sectors still have enormous faith in the potential and its associated software and usage technologies.

And Internet training is one area that has burgeoned in this regard.

One of the latest catchphrases of the revolution is the term ‘digital divide’. It’s used to describe the possibility of the digitally uneducated (who either don’t know what the Internet is for or can’t access it) being marginalised or left out of the loop in a society increasingly driven by online communication.

The desire (and pressure) to increase productivity and cost by avoiding expensive, out-of-date paper documentation is a forest-friendly solution to an age-old problem, but several social commentators and concerned citizens think that certain groups in society will be left out.

People such as seniors (traditionally slow to uptake new technologies), the unemployed (who show a much lower PC penetration rate than the main-stream), foreign-speaking people (who are already on the outer of the mostly English-speaking Internet environment) could be in trouble in years to come.

So while much of the Internet training industry is geared towards computer literates, there is a huge opportunity for basic Internet training (although its perceived lack of potential returns means it generally isn’t thought of as a ‘market’ – most ‘beginner’ courses are run by single or small operators).

Most mainstream technology training comes from the well catered-for and widely recognised TAFE and university system, which traditionally enshrine technology studies into their most industry-accepted form.

But at the higher end of the market, companies like IBC (International Business Corpor-ation) and AIM (Australian Insti-tute of Management) provide professional courses in everything from a one-day course on the basics to the practicalities of Hyper Text Markup Language.

AIM training manager Anne Seager explains that, in offering courses that cover beginner, intermediate and advanced Internet operation, e-business and HTML, computer knowledge isn’t a given.

“The majority of people in our courses have a basic knowledge, but there is still a small percentage (about 10 per cent) of people who have limited or no knowledge of computers,” Ms Seagers said.

In turn, most AIM programs, with the exception of their beginner course, cover more specific and technological aspects of the Internet (such as e-commerce and its potential for small business, and HTML).

IBC targets its courses (held as one-day seminars) even higher, including tailoring training to companies to comply with the imminent new privacy legislation.

IBC corporate communications manager James Walker said his company’s Internet training business were “mid to high end”.

“People have the basics and we do such things as search engine optimisation, website redevelop-ment and Internet marketing, as well as the privacy angle,” he said.

Internet training will always be popular with small business people due to the potential increase in profits developing technologies such as e-commerce can offer.

For its part, IBC has just begun a program, in conjunction with the State Government, to bring the Internet to small business people.

E-seminars, as they’re called, were created by eMark Corpor-ation. Director Gordon Owili explains the concept.

“They’re intended to give your average small business person an understanding of the importance of the Internet and e-commerce in their business,” he said.

“There are simple yet highly effective techniques, such as email communication with their customers and suppliers, websites and use of various computer programs to improve efficiency in their activities.”

E-seminars are to be run free to small or home-based business. A big selling point for eMark is their simplicity.

“It excludes the use of technical jargon,” Mr Owili said.

“Instead of saying ‘network’, we say ‘a bunch of computers’.”

While the program prides itself on its reach to people with few skills, its purpose is still to promote value to the bottom line.

p Continued next week

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