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How Corona is contributing to a new digital divide in employment

3/11/2021

Video meetings, teamwork platforms and virtual conferences have become an integral part of pandemic working life since spring 2020 at the latest. For many employees, the use of these networked digital technologies is now a natural part of their everyday working lives. Current analyses of the Corona supplementary survey in the National Education Panel (NEPS) now provide information on which occupational and educational groups used digital technologies more frequently in the first lockdown than before the pandemic. However, the data also show that the pandemic-induced digitization surge has not reached all employees and is even contributing to a new digital divide in the workforce that could last long beyond the pandemic. The authors of the report call for steering measures to be taken now.

 

Corona has given digitization in Germany a boost. Half of the nearly 1,800 employed persons surveyed in the NEPS supplementary survey stated that they had used networked digital technologies more frequently than before in their jobs during the first two months of the pandemic. The NEPS data have now been used to examine in detail which groups of employees specifically experienced a digitalization surge and the role played by educational level and job profiles.

The job is decisive

More than half of the respondents with a university degree reported that they had made greater use of digital technologies when the pandemic began. More important than the formal level of education, however, are the activities of the employees. Here we see that the gap widens: people with highly analytical activities on the job, for whom writing, reading, arithmetic and IT skills are highly relevant, and people with highly interactive activities on the job and a high level of customer contact experienced a significant digitization boost at work. 70 resp. 63 percent of them reported using digital technologies more than before. In contrast, those who primarily perform manual tasks were less likely to experience an increase and sometimes even underwent a decrease in technology use.

Those who work at home and are highly skilled become more digital

The researchers found the most serious difference in connection with the shift in work location to the home office. While 73 percent of those working in a home office reported an increase, the proportion among those who could not relocate their workplace was only 38 percent. From an earlier evaluation (--> Transfer Report 2, in German Language), it is known that it is primarily highly qualified employees who switch to the home office. And this group also benefits the most from the pandemic digitization surge.

Digitization surge must reach everyone

"This new digital divide in the workforce is likely to have worsened since spring 2020," says Prof. Dr. Corinna Kleinert, one of the report's authors. She conducts research at the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories (LIfBi) and is a professor of sociology specializing in longitudinal educational research at the University of Bamberg. "Networked technologies are also increasingly being used for continuing vocational training. We assume that the competent use of these new work tools will be of growing importance in the future and that certain groups of employees will fall behind. The digitization push triggered by the Corona crisis must be managed in such a way that as many employees as possible benefit from it – greater exploitation of home office potential could help to reduce the digital divide," Kleinert continues.

 

 

All the results of the evaluation can be found in the full report "For whom did Corona bring a digitalization boost?" which is available in German Language for download at https://www.lifbi.de/Corona with further background information.

 

 To the press release in German Language in the press portal [ext. link].