Digital Inequality

research on skills, uses, and outcomes of Internet technology

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In the Media

Poorly functioning IT systems and inadequate digital skills are costing Dutch workers 8% of their daily working hours.This equates to a financial loss of 19 billion euros a year.These are the findings of a report published by the University of Twente entitled ‘Ctrl Alt Delete, productivity loss due to IT problems and inadequate digital skills in the workplace’ [Ctrl Alt Delete, productiviteitsverlies door ICT-problemen en ontoereikende digitale vaardigheden op het werk]. The report was commissioned by ECDL (European Computer Driving Licence), CA-ICT (training and development fund for IT services) and Digivaardig & Digiveilig (a programme geared towards promoting digital literacy and safety skills in the Netherlands).What made the results particularly ‘shocking’, according to the researchers Dr Alexander van Deursen and Professor Jan van Dijk, was the scale of the problem and the alarming lack of awareness at management and employee level.During the research presentation at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, Dr Van Deursen advocated establishing more structured IT courses, expanding the role of helpdesks and formalizing ad-hoc help from colleagues.

Dr Alexander van Deursen claims that, “Most Dutch employees benefit greatly from the use of computers and the internet. However, the daily time losses incurred as a result of non-functioning or malfunctioning computers or software, and the lack of knowledge and skills with which to efficiently operate computers, the internet and software, are simply too great. For every hour spent at a computer, we lose 4 minutes and 34 seconds per person. This applies to low-skilled workers in particular, who lose as much as 10% of their working hours in this way."

Helpdesk important resource for IT problems

Poor productivity is proving to be an enormous cost item for employers and one that should technically fall under 'traditional' IT costs such as hardware and software, energy and IT support. The sample survey showed that employees encounter a serious IT problem on average 1.7 times a week. For low-skilled workers this figure is closer to 2.5 times a week with the time taken to solve the problem averaging 35 minutes and 57 seconds. The helpdesk is the most popular source of assistance (49%). Just over a third of employees are able to solve the problem themselves (31%), and 17% will ask a colleague for help. Assistance from colleagues would appear to be the most efficient solution method. Alexander van Deursen explains, “It’s the easiest of the options, takes the least time, and you learn new digital skills in the process. By appointing an IT buddy in every department to lend IT support where necessary, you will in effect be creating an extension of the helpdesk. This is a successful solution that organizations can quite easily implement."

Employees are collegial and helpful

Employees underestimate their digital skills considerably. 52% of respondents read an incoming e-mail straight away despite this being an inefficient use of e-mail. One important point to emerge from the survey was the level of collegiality among Dutch employees. Alexander van Deursen, “Over 63% of employees will offer to help a colleague with poor digital skills. This level of support costs a considerable amount of time and money. IT savvy employees spend an average 23 minutes and 58 seconds a week on assisting their colleagues with IT problems. This can be a good learning tool on the one hand, certainly where it concerns less complex skills. But on the other hand, it's difficult to assess exactly how effective this support is.”

“Establish a set of solutions and assess and train employees”

Tineke Netelenbos from Digivaardig & Digiveilig and eSkills ambassador is very concerned about the fact that employees and employers are not responding quicker to this problem: “A productivity loss of 19 billion euros is simply unacceptable. It's impossible to reduce this loss to zero since new IT developments and software programmes always involve a learning curve. But by underestimating the problem and overestimating employees' digital skills, the current loss poses an even greater danger. Employers should identify which applications and systems account for the greatest time loss and establish a set of practical solutions. Support from colleagues also needs to be better organized to ensure greater efficiency. And employees should undergo training courses and assessments to improve their digital skills and reduce time lost at work.”

Benefits of IT training courses underestimated

Just over a fifth (22%) of respondents (the majority young) have taken an IT course in the past three years and only 1 in 10 in the category ´board members and senior management´, 60% of whom citied ‘don’t need it’ as the main reason for not doing so. There was however a striking difference between the expected time savings and the actual estimated savings of following a course — the actual savings were twice as high.

Smartphones and tablets

Despite the growing popularity of smartphones, only 16% of employees use them for business purposes. The use of tablets is even lower. The frequency of use of smartphones among skilled workers is higher than among middle- and low-skilled workers. Board members and senior management are the largest user group where the productivity loss drops as operating time increases. Productivity loss among highly-skilled workers is just 3.7% compared to 14.5% for low-skilled workers.

The report´s recommendations:

1.

Identify sources of productivity loss

2.

Establish a system of IT support for colleagues

3.

Consider how great a role the helpdesk will play

4.

Focus in particular on low-skilled workers

5.

Focus more on internet skills

6.

Assess digital skills when recruiting new personnel and monitor these skills

7.

Implement a targeted policy for the use of smartphones and tablets

8.

Set rules of thumb for efficient e-mail use

9.

Invest in training and certification

10.

Conduct a survey among personnel to identify their preferred problem-solving methods

Alexander Rinnooy Kan, Chairman of the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands, who received the report Ctrl Alt Delete, had this to say, “This research demonstrates the tremendous waste of time incurred by the shortage in employee IT and computer skills. This alone justifies the pressing need to build a more 'digitally' adept nation at all levels of our education system.”

The study

The study Ctrl Alt Delete was conducted by Dr Alexander van Deursen and Prof. Jan van Dijk of the University of Twente in cooperation with Digivaardig & Digiveilig, ECDL and CA-ICT. The results are based on a large sample survey of the Dutch working population aged between 16 and 67 who work a minimum of 12 hours a week and a minimum of 2 hours a day at a computer.

Note to the press

To obtain a digital version of the study and to request an interview, please contact our Science Information Officer Joost Bruysters on +31 (0)53 4892773 or +31 (0)6 10488228.