Blog Post

When it comes to technology skills what should front line Settlement practitioners work on this year?

By: Marco Campana
May 9, 2024

Someone wrote that no technology project team is complete without a social worker, because "Social work excels at understanding the entire system while also understanding the needs of the individual." In our sector, no technology project should be considered complete without front line workers and Newcomers present, for the same reason. We must centre staff and Newcomers in all technology-related planning and decision-making.

This can feel overwhelming. So I want to leave you with some tangible next steps to work on for the rest of this year.

The future of the frontline worker’s job comes up a lot in conversations about technology and settlement as a point of anxiety. A fear of being replaced by technology.

I don’t think your job is at risk. It is evolving. But you are more important than ever before.

And, as we look to the future, we can and should drive the change that is happening and ensure it aligns with our sector's core values, as well as the type of work we want to be doing. In your work, you play a key role in systems navigation. Increasingly that also means navigating technology.

At our core we’ve always worked in, but now we are formally moving towards a hybrid or blended service model. This hybrid or blended service model is made up of in-person as well as online or remote service delivery, whether in real time or not. This means really no wrong approach or no wrong door for clients. An accessible and equitable model that's flexible and customized. It means both in-person and digital/remote services, sometimes with the same client. In some cases you may have fully in-person clients, in others fully virtual. In reality, this isn’t new. You’ve been providing hybrid service delivery for a long time, well before the pandemic. But we have an opportunity to formalize it now. So how do we get there?

Hybrid service delivery is the reality

A hybrid approach requires

  • Thoughtful, intentional planning
  • New approaches to service design
  • Shifts in how we work and our skills

What does that look like at the individual level? It means a shift in all your roles.

You are a Digital Navigator

Over and above your existing roles, potentially new roles/jobs, but also increasingly becoming part of your role - Digital Navigators. Like general Settlement work, as a Digital Navigator you help Newcomers navigate the digital system. Instead of employment, health, housing, or community systems, here we’re focusing on digital literacy systems. Digital navigators are trusted guides who assist community members in internet adoption and the use of computing devices.

Like the hybrid model, you were already a Digital Navigator before the pandemic. And many of you have become Digital Navigators now.

Run a workshop on how to use LinkedIn for job search? Digital navigation.

Support someone to download and complete a government form? Digital navigation.

Over the past years has your organization provided support to Newcomers around devices, internet connections, or digital literacy training (whether you offered it or referred Newcomers to the community)? Digital navigation.

Our question is whether the Digital Navigator model is something we want to formalize and integrate into our work with Newcomers.

The answer is yes.

A recent report on Digital Navigators in the United States looked at how helpful digital navigators have been. They interviewed the leaders of more than 40 digital navigator programs and conducted a nationwide survey of over 1,500 digital navigator users. They found some important outcomes for digital navigator users: 

  • 66% overcame adoption barriers and have an internet connection and device
  • 86% strengthened their digital skills
  • 80% feel more confident or safer using technology

It’s a model that works. It can work for us. Hopefully your organization applied for this role or one like it in the Digital Support Services stream in the recent IRCC Call for Proposals.

Digital navigation services include ongoing assistance with accessing affordable internet access, device acquisition, technical skills, and application (app and software) support. The Digital Navigator in our context helps provide digital literacy skills orientation or training for Newcomers. The Digital Navigator is an advocate and support person who educates and onboards Newcomers so they can make informed decisions about using technology.

This help is provided in person or over the telephone but can also include email, text/digital messaging, video chat, and other communication methods that work for the Newcomer. Additionally, Digital Navigators play an important role finding and making referrals to programs and facilitating enrollment in digital literacy classes, workshops, upskilling opportunities, critical services, or helping people navigate community resources and services. Digital Navigators follow up with Newcomers to track progress and to ensure goals have been met.

As I mentioned, it’s a new layer of systems navigation that we all must become more knowledgeable about. It is important that front line workers learn to be substantially knowledgeable about digital devices and platforms and prepare for digital transformation readiness.

Sounds a lot like Settlement work, right?

Our work and organizations are changing, so what should you do?

I've written a lot about the fact that we can and should borrow ideas, models, and practices from other places and make them our own. The Digital Navigator is a great example. In this case, I'm going to borrow from the UK's Devon County Council Digital and Technology Strategy 2021 - 2024. It includes their use of emerging technology, including intelligent virtual agents, robotics and automation tools, ensuring that they consider the ethical use of emerging technologies and working in the open, proactively sharing learning with other organizations.

They outline some very specific staff competencies. They are very practical, doable, and completely relevant for what front line Settlement practitioners can also aspire to working on.

Image with the 5 staff competencies outlined in the text following the image.

By the end of 2024, you should:

  • be confident in your digital skills and know how to access additional support.
  • be aware of user centred service design and know how to access and be supported in identifying opportunities for innovation
  • be aware of the importance of data and intelligence and be able to access the information you need to measure performance, predict and anticipate future demand and make well-informed decisions. This might sound the most intimidating, but it really means developing deep knowledge of clients and communities, which is factored in service and program design and delivery. “To ensure we design and deliver the right digital and technology services, we will design our services around the needs of the people using them and put digital at the heart.”
  • receive data protection and cyber security training
  • embrace your role as a Digital Navigator, know where to access digital literacy information for your clients and share what you create with the sector

Every front line worker can and must increase their knowledge and skills in these core areas. Additional areas of focus and discussion, including how sector funders need to better allocate professional development funding, can be found in the National Steering Committee on Technology's 2022 report: The Future is Now: Strengthening High-Quality, Inclusive and Innovative Hybrid Service Delivery, specifically the section Strengthening the Immigrant and Refugee-serving Sector's Hybrid Service Environment.

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