HR and the Digital Bubble

old-typewriterI’m looking forward to attending the HR Technology Conference & Exposition (##HRTechConf) next week where, once again, I’ll be a member of the HR Tech Insiders team. This post, Digital Readiness and Matters of HR, originally appeared on the #HRTechConf site.

I’m an HR practitioner with technology needs (and dreams) for my organization. So next week, as I’m wandering the Expo Hall or chatting it up at an after-hours social event, I’ll be seeking information about innovative technology and finding out what problems the solution providers tell me they can solve.

But, and this is a big piece of what I try to accomplish each year, I’ll also aim to educate the vendors. I’ll make sure to share some real-world day-to-day true stories from the world of human resources with the sales guys, developers, and start up CEOs as we nibble on a canapé and sip a craft cocktail. I’ll explain to them what, precisely, HR professionals struggle with on a regular basis. I’ll show them pictures of the stacks of paper waiting to be filed (I literally have done this; find me and I’ll show you the picture on my phone) by my HR team.  Yup; HR is not all glamorous and sexy despite what many seem to think. (note: I even made myself laugh with that one).

I think these are important conversations to have. I’ve found that over the numerous years I’ve been chatting with tech creators they tend to develop and market their technology solutions from within a bubble; a bubble that encases San Francisco, NYC, London, Austin or whatever other ‘tech’ city in which they launched their startup.

Many of these guys and gals seem to think that every workforce is like theirs: a bunch of people sitting around using updated devices, hanging out on Slack and collaborating, working from home, and completing one-click pulse surveys to track their own engagement. Whenever I tell people that lots of HR teams are (believe it or not!) still sending and receiving faxes and posting paper notices on bulletin boards, they think I’m making it up.

I am not making it up.

There are challenges faced by numerous HR professionals (far more than the purveyors of products realize) who employ blue-collar (ugh how I hate that term), service, and entry-level workers.  Millions of people are employed in these jobs and millions more apply for these jobs; the wheels of commerce pivot on these jobs.  Yet many of these individuals are not, in 2016, in a state of digital readiness.

I interact with these candidates, job seekers, and employees every day.  They don’t have email addresses, they don’t have a computer at home or have broadband access, and, while they may have a smartphone, it’s primarily used for text messaging, taking pictures, chatting on Facebook, and playing Candy Crush.

That is real.

For many years we’ve talked about the “digital divide” which was our way of discussing access to digital technologies. While that is still part of the conversation, there is heightened awareness, as in this excellent article from the Pew Research Center, about the “digital readiness gap” – specifically how it relates to readiness for online learning.

Pew provides this operational definition of digital readiness:

  • Digital skills, that is, the skills necessary to initiate an online session, surf the internet and share content online.
  • Trust, that is, people’s beliefs about their capacity to determine the trustworthiness of information online and safeguard personal information.
  • These two factors express themselves in the third dimension of digital readiness, namely use – the degree to which people use digital tools in the course of carrying out online tasks.

There are employees and candidates who are unable to navigate using a keyboard and a mouse. There are candidates who don’t want to enter their social security number into your online reference checking system because they don’t trust your ability to safeguard their data (heck – they don’t even know you yet!). There are individuals who are unable to navigate to a website unless you specifically tell them “OK; now that I’ve gotten you to the internet you can type h-t-t-p…..”.  And this is not an age/generational thing in my experience; so don’t even go there.

The Pew study classified 5 distinct groups of users:

  • Digitally Ready (17% of adults) – confident in their online skill and have technology assets
  • Cautious Clickers (31%) – confident in their digital skills, nearly 90% have home broadband or a smartphone
  • The Reluctant (33%) – below average confidence with computers and electronic devices, relatively low levels of internet use for learning purposes
  • Traditional Learners (5%) – active learners but don’t use technology to do so, 74% of them need help getting new devices to work, and 90% say they worry about trust factors with online information
  • The Unprepared (14% of adults) – not confident in their digital skills, low level of tech assets.(this group is considered the most digitally wary as they rank low in all measures of skills, trust, and use).

I found this data fascinating – and realistic.

I dare say that many of the people I will speak to next week at the #HRTechConf will have the belief that all end-users are Digitally Ready and/or Cautious Clickers. Many of us out in the world of day-to-day human resources however have workforces and candidate pools made up of The Reluctant, Traditional Learners and The Unprepared.

It’s a conversation we need to have moving forward yet I also think there are two immediate action items:

  • It’s the responsibility of HR professionals to assist in moving people to digital readiness
  • It’s the responsibility of solution providers to seek a clear understanding of the entire labor market/workforce and, let me be frank, to minimize their condescension when talking about those who are not digitally ready.

It matters for HR.


Make sure to follow the hashtag #HRTechConf for all the news and announcements from Chicago. Still haven’t registered? Use Promo Code SCHOOL16 for a $200.00 discount off the current HR Tech rate.  Or, if you just want to spend some time in the Expo Hall, use the Promo Code EXPO75 to get a “One Day Expo Pass” for only $75 (this offer expires 10/1/16!)


One thought on “HR and the Digital Bubble

  1. Well said. User-friendly technology has to be accessible for everyone in whatever stage of digital skills they have. Not just a portion of the work force that is not even half of all employees. We need REAL solutions for everyone.

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