Philly tries computer driving license

International Computer Driving License ? U.S.

Philadelphia will be the first U.S. city to use a certification program developed in Europe to provide a pool of workers with guaranteed levels of basic computer skills.

Ten centers are opening in the city this month to provide testing for the International Computer Driving License (ICDL), and more are planned to certify what city officials hope will be thousands of potential candidates.

"It will provide a baseline on which people can build their computer skills and grow," said Carole Smith, executive director of the Philadelphia Mayor's Commission on Technology (MCOT). "It will also verify whether or not the schools and other [educational] organizations are actually giving their students the skills they need to perform basic computer tasks."

Eventually, she said, Philadelphia employers could come to require the ICDL certificate of all their job applicants.

That's already happening in many places in Europe, according to Grant Castle, president of ICDL-US (www.icdlus.com), to the point where job advertisements tell applicants not to bother coming to an interview if they don't have the certificate.

More than 3 million candidates in more than 100 countries have already been tested against the program's syllabus, Castle said.

"Studies have shown that many people who use computers take an average of two-and-a-half hours a week away from their jobs to try and work out how to use computer applications, and usually they have to pull another co-worker away from their job to do that," he said.

But 70 percent of the problems these workers run up against — such as basic filing, word processing and spreadsheet use — is covered by the ICDL course, Castle said.

The course includes a curriculum of seven modules that teaches these kinds of skills. If students pass four modules — taught and tested via the Web — they will earn a basic "driver's license," Smith said. If students then pass the other three, they will get a full license.

The ICDL in Philadelphia is being implemented by the newly formed Greater Philadelphia Computer Skills Collaborative, which includes MCOT, IBM Corp., the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania and other companies, unions and academic organizations.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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