Community-Based Information Technology Workforce Development

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
John Carroll
Virginia Tech

Jobs often require sophisticated computer skills. A large proportion of adults lack these skills; many are unemployed or under-employed. Typical approaches to this challenge of an information technology workforce rely on formal training programs, but such programs may not be suitable for everyone and, in any case, lack the capacity to include all those who need information technology training.


Some computing skill is now required in almost every job. An increasing proportion of jobs require a variety of highly sophisticated computer skills. Many secondary schools treat computing as an aspect of basic literacy. And computer science has become the largest undergraduate major in universities. But a large number of adults are already in the workforce, and lack computing skills entirely, or have only basic office application skills. Other adults are not currently in the workforce, and thus face the heightened challenge of attaining the skills that would allow them to enter the workforce (for example, homemakers, disabled persons, the elderly, and members of minority groups).

In the US, and other "advanced" nations, many education initiatives are underway to address the challenge of developing an information technology workforce. Most approaches involve formal education, for example, expanding and better utilizing university programs in computer science, or providing university extension or community college programs. It is clearly important to increase the capacity and accessibility of such programs. However, formal education is frequently inaccessible to adult learners in a sense more profound than the mere availability of classroom seats. Adult learners are not engaged effectively by the "learning for learning's sake" orientation of formal education. For adults it is critically important to learn new skills in a meaningful context in which real goals are pursued and achieved in the course of the learning (Knowles, 1973; Carroll, 1990).

The training challenge of an information technology workforce in advanced nations is a special case of what is now widely called the "digital divide": The global chasm between those who have access to technology and the skills to use it, and those who do not.


Informal, community-based activities can complement formal approaches to the training challenge of an information technology workforce. Persons not in workforce may still be active and engaged members of their community. Indeed, homemakers and retired people are typically more engaged in community development activities than the fully employed, who often work outside the community. People with existing and active commitments to their communities may find it more meaningful to learn about Web programming, for example, by helping to create a Web application for a community service organization, than by attending an intensive programming class. What we know about adult learners suggests that this would indeed be the case.

In our solution, community groups inspire and assist one another in learning about, utilizing, and developing skills for advanced information technology tools and resources. The learning is project-based, peer-oriented, and collaborative. Groups may be facilitated in their learning activity by technology experts, but our model is that such expert help is highly leveraged through the social mechanisms of the community. Learning outcomes are channeled into career development outcomes by public social service agencies (in our case Virginia Vital Information for Education and Work (VIEW,, and regional offices of the Virginia Employment Commission ( and the Virginia Workforce Center (, and private providers like Goodwill IndustriesÂ’ Workforce Development Center.

Pattern status: