• Andrea Glispie

Pathways to Work Launches New Initiative to Bridge the Digital Divide

With funding and technical support provided by National Fund for Workforce Solutions, Pathways to Work has formed a new collaboration with the State Fair of Texas, CARDBoard Project, Dallas Innovation Alliance and CitySquare to provide digital literacy skills and job coaching to workers of State Fair of Texas who were affected by the cancellation of the 2020 State Fair due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dallas faces a severe digital divide. The city ranks number six in the country and number one in Texas of urban cities with families without fixed internet access. Five of the top ten zip codes that have the highest percentage of households without broadband subscriptions are in South Dallas where many black residents live. At least 17 percent of Black workers and 32 percent of all Latino workers have no digital skills.

Further exacerbating this digital divide, the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the local job market. According to TIP Strategies, the Dallas-Fort Worth region has lost 151,500 jobs. Only the Houston area has lost more jobs. Most industries have been impacted by the job losses, but hospitality and food service have been hit the hardest. In particular, the State Fair of Texas (The Fair), the largest event hosted in Dallas, was cancelled in its original form and was run as a drive-through event. The Fair normally employs 6,000 workers with most workers making $11.15/hour. The drive-through event only needed 150 workers. Approximately, 38 percent of the typical Fair workforce are between the ages of 40 and 59 and 52 percent are Black. Most of the Fair workers live in historically underserved, geographically-isolated neighborhoods of South Dallas that also have a high percentage of households without broadband subscriptions. These workers depend on the Fair each year as a major source of income, and not having the Fair meant a substantial loss of income. With hospitality and food service unemployment still high due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these former Fair workers were unlikely to find replacement work in these sectors. Many of these workers also lacked a digital identity and digital skills needed for other jobs in the labor market. Without digital skills, many of these workers were unable to access good jobs to make up for the loss income from the Fair’s cancellation.

The digital divide initiative will help 150 displaced workers over the next 18 months build their digital identities, gain digital literacy skills, and secure good jobs through coaching and placement assistance. Workers will attain a professional email address, LinkedIn profile, and voicemail service. They will also complete a six-week training program that covers the following topics: basics of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook along with Digital Citizenship sessions that include being safe online, leaving a digital footprint, maintaining digital etiquette and protecting personal information. Upon completing the training, workers will be matched with a job coach who will provide ongoing professional and personal assistance to ensure job placement.

The program starts in April 2021 and individuals can sign up for training here.

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