Battle of the standards

20 Dec 2002

In bridging any nation’s digital divide, often the battle begins with perception. In Ireland’s case, our prowess as a software exporter belies a serious divide between those that have computing skills and those that don’t – either through lack of opportunity, lack or resources or a fear of computing in general.

A laudable effort to bridge this digital divide came in the mid-Eighties in the form of the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL). This has bridged this battle of skill and perception in Irish businesses and the everyday lives of its citizens.

Some 200,000 people have passed this test and the organisation responsible for the training standard here, ECDL Ireland, has now over 1,000 accredited test centres in Ireland between businesses, colleges and training institutions like FÁS. Irish businesses themselves have played a key role in the impetus towards ECDL insofar as some companies refuse to employ people who don’t have the certification and insist that new employees go for the advanced ECDL course after six months in the new company.

But the success of the ECDL training standard may be compromised by the sudden arrival of a new computer literacy standard that has the backing of thousands of computer companies throughout the world. Known as IC3 (Internet and Computing Core Certification), the standard was developed by Certiport, a global provider of performance-based certification technologies after two years of research into 270 computer-related subject matters in more than 19 countries.

The standard is also recognised and backed by the global CompTIA organisation that represents more than 8,000 computing and communications companies around the world, including Microsoft and Novell. CompTIA works to standardise technologies in the areas of certification, e-commerce, customer service and workforce development.

At a time when Ireland’s workforce collectively licks its wounds after a bruising year of redundancies, the addition of a competing computer literacy standard may help in efforts to up skill a traditional workforce that needs to be seen as attractive to a new generation of employers and industries. This is the view of David Saedi, (pictured) executive vice-president of Certiport, who was in Dublin recently for the introduction of the new standard into the Irish market, where it will be managed principally by Prodigy, a local firm specialising in Microsoft Office Specialist examinations. “There is a burgeoning ICT skills gap globally that is beginning to be felt not only in the tech sector but in traditional sectors as well. After redundancy, years in a job may give you experience but does not necessarily prepare you for the changing skills required throughout the world,” Saedi said.

Cutting across a wide range of computing skills, ranging from basic office applications like word processing and spreadsheets up to network management and web design, IC3-based training differs from ECDL insofar as the training is based around live in-application testing. “We basically can track every movement on the keyboard and assess the person’s familiarity with the software they are using,” Saedi explained. He added that some 40,000 IC3 exams are being conducted throughout the world every month by individuals ranging in age from 18 to 70.

At the moment Saedi was en route to implementing IC3 training for the Italian Government and Police Force. In Ireland, IC3 training has been adopted by the FÁS training centre in Athlone. Lorraine Danaher, an instructor at the center, explained: “Our feedback from local businesses stressed the requirement for a proficiency in computer literacy. Clients receive an internationally-recognised certification and obtain the relevant IT skills in just three short modules.” She adds that the CompTIA certification was a big factor in choosing the IC3 training programme at its Athlone facility, which features a high-tech online testing centre that can facilitate all major IT exams.

From June to August this year, some 36 people studied the IC3 courseware. They were made up mostly of women returning to the workforce, people made redundant from local businesses, disabled people and people just looking to learn basic computing skills.

So far, it is understood that at least 15 of the individuals found immediate employment in companies such as OneDirect, as well as telesales and receptionist roles in local firms. Others have gone on to study advanced courses like PC maintenance and Microsoft Office Specialist certification.

Saedi said he is confident of the fact that IC3 will become a serious competitor to ECDL. “We are banking on the primary needs of Irish businesses across the board who are realising the advantages of having employees with basic or advanced computing skills. It ultimately saves them money and allows them to have a complete workforce that can focus on more important aspects of the business. We also believe there will be considerable interest amongst people who have been laid off this year and want to re-enter the workforce or anyone who wants to move up the job value chain,” he said.