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Goodwill Helping Reboot Careers With Digital Literacy Classes

After serving his country aboard an aircraft carrier, Jerry Young spent many years working in aircraft refueling and basic warehousing. But when his knees went bad, the U.S. Navy veteran realized he lacked some key knowledge necessary to move into a less physically demanding job.

“My computer skills are zero,” he admitted. 

Young, now 62, is unemployed and receiving disability benefits. However, he wants to return to work and hopes to become a drug addiction counselor. 

“I went through a drug addiction at one point in my life. And God brought me through that, so I feel this need to give back,” he said.

While living in Memphis, Young participated in a nine-month program to learn about drug counseling and earned a certificate from Southwest Tennessee Community College. But a counseling position will almost certainly require some use of a computer, spreadsheets and other types of software. In fact, he needs to be able to use a computer just to apply for most drug counseling positions.

After moving to Nashville, he sought career assistance through the Veterans Administration, which in December referred him for computer training at the Goodwill Career Solutions Center at 937 Herman St. — one of eight such centers across middle and west Tennessee.  

Goodwill offers several free hands-on digital literacy courses under the umbrella of its Goodwill Digital Career Accelerator program. The program is funded by a grant from Google as well as through the generosity of Goodwill donors and shoppers. Classes include a one-day Computer Basics training covering online job search, resume-writing and productivity skills; a three-day Productivity Tools training in Microsoft Office, Google’s G-suite, Gmail, online calendars and more; and a six-month course for people entering the information technology industry. All digital literacy classes are free-of-charge, although participation in the IT program is awarded via competitive scholarship.

Becky Currier, Goodwill’s manager of training and certification programs, said contrary to what many people may believe, a lack of digital skills is a common barrier to employment for people struggling to find a job or to advance in careers. 

“It’s a digital world now,” she said. “Computer skills are a critical need in all industries for employees and for our job-seeking clients, regardless of their areas of interest.”

Currier said many of those who seek Goodwill’s assistance with digital literacy are mature adults or seniors who once worked in non-technical positions that are rapidly disappearing. But Goodwill also assists nurses and other professionals who were sidelined as their fields became more and more dependent on computers. These are often very intelligent people who were just reluctant or fearful to take the plunge into computers, she said.

“The neatest thing we see during our classes are these incredible ‘Ah-hah!’ moments that happen with students,” Currier said. “It is cool when you see somebody who has learned to master a skill they thought they could never learn. It helps them gain confidence, and then when they go on job interviews they are able to speak more confidently about their digital literacy skills with hiring managers.” 

In the Computer Basics course, Young learned how to operate a mouse, how to navigate the various windows of the computer and programs such as Microsoft Word, and how to access email and other Internet functions. 

Those were among the skills Vivian Rangel also needed when she signed up for Goodwill’s Digital Literacy classes in May. At that time Rangel, who had worked as a processor and sales associate for Goodwill in Clarksville for more than five years, was offered the chance to apply for promotion to lead sales associate. 

“As soon as I applied, I told them: ‘Listen, I don’t think I have a chance, because I never touched a computer in my life,’” she recalls. “There’s no way you can be a lead without knowing computers. (The manager) told me, ‘Goodwill will help you. They have free programs to give you training.’”

Rangel first attended a Google for Job-Seekers event where some computing basics useful for finding jobs were explained. Then she took the multi-day training in productivity tools. She also got some follow-up guidance and support from her supervisors and co-workers. 

Today, Rangel feels comfortable using the office computer at her Goodwill store on Madison Boulevard for numerous managerial tasks, such as filling out safety reports, ordering truckloads of supplies and merchandise, and doing Internet searches to help determine pricing for unusual items. 

“By the time I got through with those classes, I had the knowledge I needed,” she says. “It basically helped me with everything I do here.”

Rangel was one of 138 people to complete the Productivity Tools course in 2019, while Young joined more than 400 who completed the Computer Basics class. Young said he plans to continue expanding his digital skills. 

“I will be looking for further classes with Goodwill,” he said. 

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Learn More About Goodwill’s Free Digital Literacy Program?

Visit giveit2goodwill.org/services/
or call 1-800-545-9231.

Who is a Goodwill client?

A Goodwill client is any person who comes to Goodwill needing help determining a job or career in which they have a probability of being successful. Goodwill does this through education, training and employment, in addition to helping individuals secure other resources they need to live successfully in the community. Goodwill employs many clients in its stores and donation centers. In fact, nearly 90 percent of employees came to Goodwill because of its mission.

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