Digital division in Kansas City is taking its toll on the local workforce, said Jeremy Hegle.
More must be done to allow skilled workers access to technology — in turn offering them a chance to succeed in a rapidly growing electronic economy, added Hegle, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City senior community development advisor.
In defining the digital divide — a lack of access to a computer and high-speed internet connectivity — Hegle said a concentrated effort to promote digital inclusion could rectify the situation and redefine the strength of the Kansas City job market.
“Thinking of how we can move things forward is imperative,” Hegle said.
Such proactivity inspired the KC Fed to organize an Aug. 8 seminar examining the fundamentals of digital inclusion. The event saw nearly 300 people — a combination of in-person attendees and those who joined the seminar via a web stream — participate in activities geared toward addressing the skills gap, access to technology and the development of community programs.
All three are needed to earn an education and secure a job, Hegle said.
“We started looking at this up to six months ago — trying to understand what the needs are of the community,” he said.
To better serve community needs and aid digital inclusivity, the KC Fed now works in tandem with the Kansas City Coalition for Digital Inclusion to spread awareness of the digital divide, Hegle said.
With limited access to the web amid near-daily advancements in technology, a subsection of the Kansas City workforce is falling into obsolescence, he said. Meanwhile, startup companies and small businesses find themselves at a competitive disadvantage when hiring.
Increased awareness and resources already have started to narrow the divide, Hegle said.
“We’re seeing wages rise and seeing employers being able to fill those jobs and be more competitive on a national and international scale,” he said.
In addition to its work with the Kansas City Coalition for Digital Inclusion, the KC Fed has also partnered with another local non-profit, Connecting for Good. Together, the organizations will work to provide low-cost computers to those in the community who need them, Hegle said.
“I think one of the great things in Kansas City is a lot of collaboration and just having people getting in the room together,” he said.
After the launch of the Digital Workforce Development Initiative earlier this month, Hegle said he believes good things are on the horizon for the metro. Hegle hopes to collaborate with DWDI, as well as the city, in a continued pursuit of a digitally inclusive Kansas City, he said.