One office where I worked had a strict policy regarding computer literacy. It was a law firm and it went a little like this: support staff (accountants, secretaries, paralegals) were given a basic computer literacy test during the hire process. If they failed the test, they weren’t hired. If they did poorly on the test, it made the difference in shortlist time. Lawyers, who are often hired for network/money reasons, were given the same test on their first day, and either given new training or extra support staff (if big money was involved) if their skills weren’t up to snuff. The sad thing is that the test was nothing special: opening, using (including typing test for secretaries) Microsoft Word, doing a basic presentation using a template in Power Point, a couple basic calculations in Excel (like what you would do for an expense report), an overview of the company’s legal document database (in dev version for interviewees). And yet, it was unbelievable how many young secretaries (either digital natives or digital immigrants of my generation) failed the test. Seriously, these days how do people get through college without using Word and having a minimal proficiency?
The strange thing is, now that I work in IT, I find the most savvy software users in my admittedly limited sample are not necessarily the under-25s but, strangely enough, people of my parents’ generation, who are 55+. I have quantitatively had the most problems with people on the high end of Generation X, the ones who were on the tail end of having to use a computer in college. Meanwhile 65 year old dudes who used to have to use abaci and slide rulers are downloading stuff from torrents. But that, as usual, is another story for another post. What continues to blow my mind is how anyone who wants to have any kind of an office job today thinks they can get away with not having basic skills in Microsoft programs (which are still the industry standard, sorry) and, most importantly, not want to learn these skills. I think having a certain ease with word processing programs, for example, means you can write something yourself rather than dictate it to a secretary and proof her work (lawyers excepted for longer documents). I also find it absolutely criminal that a career secretary (not someone who came in from another profession like retail) need to be taught several years out how to do a mail merge. That for me is something you learn at your first job. Some people say that if you hire a CFO then he is hired to crunch numbers, not use a computer, but if a CFO can’t use SAP or Excel and, more importantly, doesn’t want to learn, I think that says a lot about that person’s initiative, drive and professionalism. Computer literacy is professional development on the same level, for me, as staying current with industry trends. I don’t understand people who refuse to learn.