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CUL Testifies Before House Public Utility Committee In Support of HB 2691

Testimony of Andrew Wells
Director of Workforce Development, Chicago Urban League
House Public Utility Committee In Support of HB 2691

April 4, 2017

“Mr. Chairman and ladies and gentlemen of the committee – my name is Andrew Wells, and I am the Director of the Workforce Development Center at the Chicago Urban League. Thank you for the opportunity to offer testimony here today.

In my role at the Chicago Urban League, I am tasked with the very important job of connecting people to employment opportunities. In the 100 years our organization has been in service to the African American community, this has been a staple of our work. Throughout the past century we’ve fought on behalf of individuals and families to help them find jobs and gain access to the resources they needed to live a safe and productive life. To ensure that we are doing all we can to help, the League supports legislation that widens opportunity for our clients and communities. That is why we are supporting a modern communications law in Illinois today.

I’m not a technology expert, so I cannot talk about the details of technology infrastructure and advancements. But what I can talk about is the need for high-speed internet, both wired and wireless, and the important role it plays in helping the people we serve seek and secure opportunity.

We support a modern communications law because mobile internet access is narrowing the digital divide. For too many years, the League would meet adults that had limited to no experience working with computers or using the internet, including web search, web browsing and email functions. There are few jobs in high growth industries that don’t require at least a basic understanding of technology. I’m happy to say that we’ve seen this start to decrease, as more adults come to us a bit more tech savvy. No one needs an expensive computer at home to gain access to the internet anymore, and this has helped tremendously. Today, people can access the internet on the phone, reducing the need for expensive computers. In fact, many sites, apps and other services are optimized for the phone, making it a very useful tool.

Not everything on the internet is great, and there is a lot on there that can raise an eyebrow. But what is good about the internet is very good, and I think we can agree on that. It holds the accumulated knowledge of a variety of subjects, topics and ideas. If you want to learn about anything these days, you “search it,” and get your answer within moments. If you want to learn about what is happening nearby or what resources you have access to, the internet is an increasingly vital tool. When provided to all that need it, it plays a major role in breaking down barriers to opportunity.

Modern technologies are how people find and do work in this century. When we first incorporated in 1916, we used “shoe leather recruitment methods” – we’d go down to the train station and connect people coming off the trains to jobs and homes. A lot has changed in 100 years. Now, if you want a job, chances are you are going to have to find it online. Many employers post their positions online. Many employers use online applications and recruitment sites to fill their positions. Many employers expect job candidates to email resumes and other materials to them. There is no getting around the role of technology in workforce development and the hiring process.

It doesn’t end there, though. We’ve helped thousands of people find gainful employment in jobs that set them off on a good career path. Once this opportunity is secured, our clients need to have skills that allow them to work a computer and complete the technology-based functions of their job. We call this digital literacy, and at the Chicago Urban League, we train people to develop or improve their digital literacy skills. This increases the likelihood that not only will they get a job, but they’ll be able to keep that job. This opens them up in time to new employment opportunities, which hopefully snowballs into bigger and better things for them. With digital literacy skills and access to the internet, our clients go farther. They are connected, they are better informed, and they are able to seek out resources to do better.

Modern technologies – the internet in particular – are powerful tools in breaking down barriers and providing opportunity. On behalf of the people we serve and the communities in which they live and work, we urge you to support a modern communications law this year. HB2691 is sound legislation which the Chicago Urban League strongly supports. We work hard to ensure that our clients seeking jobs have access to the resources to do so, and this legislation is important in removing a critical barrier.”