Bridging the digital divide
By Mark Dinh
When people think of Goodwill, they mostly think of our retail stores and donation centers. While this is a very large part of who we are and what we have been known for, it’s not the full story.*
In addition to our retail presence, Goodwills across the nation and internationally provide much-needed job and learning opportunities in our communities.
Most Goodwills have job training programs embedded into the retail operations. Many Goodwills have also created job and learning opportunities through B2B contract services such as document shredding and janitorial services. Most of us also supplement on-the-job training with classroom training to enhance both general (job searching, resume writing, interviewing, financial literacy) and industry-specific skills in job sectors such as hospitality, security, warehouse operation and transportation.
Here at Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Counties, we provide classroom training for many underserved groups in our community, including at-risk youth, individuals reentering the workforce following incarceration, and underemployed or unemployed workers.
One of the key focus areas for our classroom training is bridging the digital divide through technology skills and digital literacy programs. Through partnerships with organizations such as Microsoft’s Elevate America and California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), we are preparing today’s and tomorrow’s workforce for the ever-changing workplace.
In addition to basic computer skills (typing, computer operating system), our training curriculum incorporates lessons on internet use (online job searching and submission, social media) as well as introductory and intermediate lessons on productivity applications such as word processors, spreadsheets, presentation and email.
As a nonprofit, there are a tremendous number of platforms available to us at very discounted prices. Cloud services such as Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365, and open source platforms such as LibreOffice/OpenOffice, are compelling solutions for budget-strapped nonprofits and deserve serious consideration when we evaluate platforms.
While cost is an extremely important consideration for nonprofits, we must first and foremost consider the effectiveness of our training efforts and the overall impact we have on our community. How can we best prepare our students for the workplace? What technologies are they likely to encounter outside our four walls? Ultimately, we decided on a platform based on Microsoft Windows and Office suite.
While there’s no doubt in my mind that cloud-based services will continue to gain traction in the workplace, recent studies have shown that the Microsoft Office productivity suite is used by over 80% of companies. Additionally, nine out of 10 small- to medium-size organizations that use Google Apps are using it alongside Microsoft Office. The simple fact is students will be better prepared for the workplace by learning how to us Microsoft Windows and Office suite, though we will continue to evaluate our technology over time.
Our Microsoft Unlimited Potential grant has empowered our organization to build classroom environments of 160 learning stations across our 20 locations and three counties for our community and at a lower TCO than competing platforms. In addition to standardizing on Microsoft Windows 7 and Office 2010, we have also implemented Active Directory, Hyper-V, System Center, Exchange, Sharepoint, Lync, and SQL Server to manage these learning environments and staff network. All of these technologies work well together to deliver a familiar, easy-to-use and scalable environment for our entire organization for the foreseeable future.
It’s a no-brainer — really.
Mark Dinh is the IT director at Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Counties.
*Article originally prepared for the Microsoft Citizenship Blog.