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How deep is the digital divide? ICT literacy and the role of assistive technology in helping older workers

TitleHow deep is the digital divide? ICT literacy and the role of assistive technology in helping older workers
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsEales, J., Kim C., and Fast J.
Series TitleResearch on Aging Policies and Practice (RAPP) FACT Sheet
CityEdmonton, AB

As the Canadian economy becomes increasingly knowledge-based and technology-driven, older workers who struggle with computers and other technologies may find themselves less employable. By understanding the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) literacy skills of older workers, we can develop strategies to help older workers retain their current jobs, gain new jobs, or use assistive technologies more effectively to balance the "double burden" of paid work and family care. Using Canadian data drawn from the OECD's Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIACC) administered between 2011 and 2012, we describe older workers' ICT literacy and the factors that put them at risk of poor ICT literacy skills. We found: * Older workers (age 50-65) represent a substantial segment of the Canadian labour force: 5.3 million, or 30% of all workers. * The stereotype about older workers and technology is largely a myth. Three-quarters of older workers have at least simple ICT literacy and many use computers in daily life. * Many older workers are as well-versed in the use of ICT as younger workers, with nearly 30% scoring at moderate or proficient levels. * Differences in ICT literacy are less about age and more about other socio-demographic disparities like education, first generation immigration, income, occupation, and opportunities for daily computer use. * Marginalizing characteristics among older workers put them at greater risk of inadequate digital literacy which, in turn, leads to exclusion from the labour force. These older workers cannot afford technologies that may help them improve their own ICT literacy skills. They also may not be able to access web-based government programs or technologies that could help them balance the "double burden" of paid work and care work. * In its March 2017 budget, the Canadian government announced its intention to fund programs and initiatives to better support older workers' continued participation in the workforce, including expanding digital learning opportunities.

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