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Dec 8 -- The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is requesting information on successful approaches related to digital skills attainment and competency development in education and training efforts, the strategies our education and workforce development systems are employing to assess and ensure individuals are digitally resilient, and any challenges the education and public workforce systems are facing. DOL is also requesting information on strategies to advance digital equity and inclusion in the workforce. DOL developed this RFI with substantial input from the U.S. Department of Commerce (Commerce), U.S. Department of Education (ED), and the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS), as part of its long-standing coordination and partnership with these agencies. To be ensured consideration, comments are due by February 6, 2023.

The federal government has supported digital literacy and digital equity across a variety of sectors and through a range of programs. Attaining and maintaining digital literacy is critical to surviving and thriving in modern society. Digital resilience signifies having the awareness, skills, agility, and confidence to empower users of new technologies and adapt to changing digital skill demands. Digital resilience improves capacity to problem-solve and upskill in employment, navigate digital transformations, and be active participants in society and the economy.

Under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 (BIL, Pub. L. 117-58), digital equity is defined as the “condition in which individuals and communities have the information technology capacity that is needed for full participation in the society and economy of the United States.” Under BIL, digital inclusion refers to having reliable and affordable access to technology, broadband infrastructure, and training.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA, Pub. L. 113-39) and Digital Equity Act of 2021 (DEA), applying the Museum and Library Services Act definition, both define digital literacy as “the skills associated with using technology to enable users to find, evaluate, organize, create, and communicate information.” . . .

Going forward, digital literacy will become increasingly important to securing a quality job and the advancement of the American workforce; therefore, it is imperative for federal agencies to better understand current trends in digital literacy and digital skills attainment. DOL, in collaboration with Commerce, ED, and IMLS, will use the information collected through this RFI to inform competitive grant opportunities, further develop technical assistance, inform public policy on the expansion of digital skill-building training programs that facilitate upskilling the workforce, and address demands related to digital literacy and access. . . .
 
An individual's access to technology and opportunities to develop digital skills is a key equity issue that affects their ability to participate in society. This issue disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color, as well as people in rural communities. . . .  
 
As more jobs require digital resilience and access to reliable infrastructure, jobseekers, workers, and learners who lack digital literacy skills or other foundational career-readiness skills are at a disadvantage in both securing and retaining employment opportunities. Further, as noted in a 2020 report from the National Skills Coalition,“ digital skill levels are strongly correlated with general literacy and numeracy skills,” such that “those who struggle with technology may also struggle with the academic skills needed to gain entry to a degree or other educational program.” Occupations that have not traditionally required workers to be digitally resilient are increasingly demanding that workers have digital literacy skills. Current research suggests that while the demand for jobs requiring digital skills will increase, many workers and jobseekers continue to lack foundational digital skills. . . .  
 
The U.S. Department of Labor, with input from the above-referenced Agencies, is interested in learning about successful approaches to improving digital literacy from workforce development providers, business and labor leaders, employers, educators, policymakers, advocates, including community-anchor institutions and other nonprofit organizations, researchers, and other interested individuals and entities. Through this RFI, the Agencies seek public input to gather information about digital literacy and competencies both prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic, as applicable. The Agencies request that commenters address the key questions and themes, as noted below, in the context of the preceding discussion in this document. Commenters do not need to address every question and should focus on those that relate to their expertise or perspective. To the extent possible, please clearly indicate the question(s) addressed in your response.

Key Themes and Questions:

1. Current Trends in Digital Literacy: Please share how actors in the workforce development system, including education entities, libraries, community organizations, businesses or industry associations, and union or worker organizations, are currently engaged in digital literacy in the following areas:

(a) Assessing digital resilience for adult and youth learners?
(b) Addressing digital literacy skill demands or skills mismatches for adult and youth workers seeking employment or training services?
(c) Upskilling employees in the workforce, including incorporating digital skills instruction and integrating digital technologies into occupational skills training?
(d) Identifying in-demand digital literacy skills and/or skills most relevant for the local labor market? Are industry or occupation-specific skills being identified?
(e) Creating and utilizing incentives to engage workers and job seekers in digital learning?
(f) Developing/piloting innovative strategies and promising practices or projects to support digital resilience amongst learners?
(g) What are some examples of promising practices in the field of digital skills training?
(h) What are successful processes used by employers to share information on in-demand digital skills needed for their respective industry? How do employers share information with the public workforce system, including other employers, jobseekers and training providers?
(i) What are successful processes by which employers upgrade specific digital skills amongst their own workforces?
(j) Which library systems and museums do you consider to be exemplars in teaching digital skills? What promising practices do these institutions utilize to serve the public?

2. Challenges and Barriers to Digital Literacy: Please share identified mismatches, needs, and/or systemic barriers for stakeholders involved in digital literacy training:

(a) What barriers are individuals (adult and youth workers/learners) experiencing in accessing digital tools and/or training?
(b) What challenges are instructors and/or training providers facing when seeking to deliver digital literacy instruction and training to learners and/or workers?
(c) What are common mismatches in digital literacy that employers are facing for newly hired workers as well as incumbent workers?
(d) What resources are most needed by educators and training providers to address the challenges in providing digital skills training to individuals?
(e) What challenges are training program participants (adult and youth) facing, and where are there still mismatches in the digital literacy ecosystem (i.e., public school systems, libraries, employment service centers, etc.)?
(f) What challenges or barriers are local entities facing when attempting to use new or existing funding to support digital literacy training for learners?

3. Digital Equity and Inclusion: Please share what steps need to be taken by digital literacy stakeholders to ensure the following equity milestones are achieved:

(a) What additional resources are needed for workers of all backgrounds to access and succeed in digital literacy upskilling/training opportunities?
(b) How can programs ensure underserved and/or marginalized populations are adequately targeted for digital literacy training opportunities?
(c) How can digital skills/literacy efforts be integrated into ongoing worker preparation programs?
(d) What interventions/supports can be utilized to support digital inclusion for all program participants? For example, are there issues centered around digital literacy resources being made available in Spanish and other widely-used languages, in addition to English?
(e) How should the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences better encourage digital skills development in libraries and museums?

4. Strategic Partnerships and Collaboration: Please explain how state, local, nonprofit, and business partners are collaborating to implement successful digital literacy initiatives:

(a) How are the most successful partnerships structured? Are there required partners?
(b) Are there barriers preventing successful partnerships with business and industry partners at the state and/or local levels? If so, what are the barriers and what support is needed to overcome them?
(c) What is the role of employers in preparing new or incumbent workers for industry-specific digital skills, or how should workforce providers partner with employers? How might employer-specific digital skills be taught by the employer to build on skills taught by workforce grantees or training providers?
(d) Are there any specific digital skills that workforce and education training providers should be responsible for teaching learners, such as how to type or navigate digital devices?

5. Federal Investments in Digital Literacy: Please share what support from the federal government is needed to advance national digital literacy attainment efforts:

(a) Which existing federal programs/federal funding sources are being utilized to support digital resilience?
(b) Is additional federal funding needed for states/local governments to facilitate better services to the public?
(c) What types of technical assistance and resources would be most valuable to build digital resilience capacity?
(d) How are WIOA grantees/sub-grantees leveraging funding outside of WIOA, such as the Affordable Connectivity Program and/or digital equity funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to address digital inclusion and equity challenges with federal funding?
(e) How can federally-funded workforce and education training programs work together to ensure that participants (adult and youth) receive needed training in foundational and occupation-specific digital literacy skills?

6. Digital Literacy & K-12 Public Education System: Please share successful strategies, key challenges, and lessons learned in addressing digital literacy for K-12 youth:

(a) What are the digital skills necessary to be considered digitally literate today? In the future?
(b) Which K-12 and community college/postsecondary education systems do you consider to be exemplars in teaching digital skills to adult learners, youth learners, and/or families/caregivers? Why?
(c) How should the Department of Education better encourage digital skills education in the K-12, community colleges, and adult education settings?
(d) What are some recommended strategies to ensure digital skills education evolves alongside society's technological advances?

FRN: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2022-26461

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