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The economy is improving for many, and recently adopted minimum wage increases are having a meaningful impact—helping low-wage workers move toward financial self-sufficiency. However, these gains have the potential to leave others further behind.

Between 2007 and 2013, in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, where Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are among the fastest growing racial group and the largest minority racial group overall, the number of unemployed AAPIs increased 73%, and the poverty rate grew 63%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Within a population where over half (57%) are foreign-born, and over two-thirds speak a language other than English at home, there can be many barriers for AAPIs. As wages increase, and more job-seekers enter the labor market, those who speak limited English may find it harder to find entry-level jobs. And, if they do not know how to use computers, their labor market challenges will be compounded.

That’s why I am so proud of the spectrum of employment programs ACRS offers to help community members gain the skills they need to succeed in this country. We work with employers to learn what they need from workers today. We work with community members to help them get the support and skills they need to find, get and keep that first job. And, we’re helping those with the lowest levels of English gain English language and digital literacy skills—a need for which we’d long sought funding.

The job search and application process is now entirely digital in the vast majority of industries. All applicants—regardless of job type—must be able to apply for jobs online, and be able to access and upload digital versions of their resumes and cover letters to a variety of platforms. Once they are hired, more and more workplaces are relying on mobile devices for clocking in, reporting hours worked, completing tasks while on the job and communicating with supervisors. Employees are expected to have a degree of digital literacy, even in entry-level jobs ranging from home care aides and production assistants on assembly lines to hotel room attendants. Employees must know the basics of how to use the internet, such as how to open and respond to email, and how to access essential work-related information like schedules and policies and procedures online.

Those job-seekers that cannot bridge the digital divide will be unable to obtain and retain a job, or advance in the labor market in the United States. AAPI job-seekers and workers—many of whom do not speak English fluently—will be further penalized in the labor market if they cannot use tablets, smartphones, and the internet with some level of proficiency. To keep their jobs, learn their schedules, submit their time to get their paycheck and communicate with supervisors, employees must now be computer literate. This year, thousands of home care workers across the state were affected when the state moved their time-keeping system online, potentially costing those unfamiliar with computers their jobs or their pay.

That is why ACRS is deepening our digital literacy efforts across our programs. With generous support from Comcast, we are launching our Digital Literacy Initiative. In October, we will debut an enhanced computer literacy class for up to 20 job-seekers in our recently upgraded computer lab. The class will be taught by an ACRS instructor with extensive computer literacy skills. Our curriculum builds on new skills and elements each week, starting with basic skills, like turning a computer on and off, typing and using a mouse—skills that many of us use with such regularity in our daily lives that we cannot imagine not having them. But, for many of our clients, these are indeed new skills.

From the basics of using a computer, we will move into setting up an email account, remembering passwords, using the internet, doing online searches to find specific information, applying for jobs, and using maps to get directions to interviews. The class will be offered several times a year. Our upgraded computer classroom has become a vital part of all our employment programs. For the home care workers who care for elders at home in their native tongues, we are partnering with our Aging and Adult Services program to offer computer training so they can track and report their hours online, a new requirement of the job. Moreover, we’re helping them keep their jobs and pay by teaching them to use a computer to report their hours.

When clients in our computer classes learn to search and apply for jobs online, they gain skills critical to their success in the United States. When they learn to use and send emails, they can communicate more effectively not only at work, but also with their children’s teachers and with their families in their home countries. When they understand how to save their resume on a thumb drive, or on Google Drive, accessible from any computer in the world, they learn skills that are essential for becoming self-sufficient. And, when a home care worker uses her smartphone to report her monthly hours, she can continue to do the work that she loves, and her client can continue to receive the culturally competent care they need in their home.

Asian Counseling and Referral Service offers hope and opportunity in over 40 languages and dialects. For over 43 years, ACRS has helped people feed loved ones, find jobs, learn English, become citizens, recover from addiction, and achieve mind and body wellness. ACRS is one door through which Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, from youth to elders—whether immigrant, refugee, or American born—can find the resources they need to succeed in a new land.

Alexandra Olins is Director of Employment and Citizenship Services at Asian Counseling and Referral Service.

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