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How HR can help with a digital divide in the U.S.

It's time to put the 'human' back in human resources, said Hollywood Casino's vice president of HR, Robin Schooling, who explains why employees without tech access need extra help.

Technology is often a solution to modern HR challenges, but HR executive Robin Schooling was quick to point out...

that tech can also be a problem for employees without equal access or related skills.

For example, according to a Purdue University report released earlier this year, "Job and establishment growth between 2010 and 2015 was substantially lower in [U.S.] counties with the highest digital divide."

Schooling, who is vice president of HR at Hollywood Casino in Baton Rouge, La., will speak about the digital divide in the U.S. at the forthcoming HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas. SearchHRSoftware is the media partner for the conference.

In a preview of her remarks, Schooling outlined the challenges and explained why her three-person HR team sometimes takes an old-school, hands-on approach to everything from training to benefits enrollment.

This interview was edited lightly for brevity and clarity.

When you talk about the digital divide in the U.S., what do you mean?

Robin Schooling: The tendency is to think, as we automate more and more things, that people and job seekers are just going to go right along with all of it. We think that all job seekers or employees have the same level of technology at their disposal. We think the knowledge base is there and that they have the sophistication to go along with the online journey, from job searching to applying for jobs to the onboarding programs. And then, once they're in-house, they're ready for any online training.

Robin Schooling, vice president of HR, Hollywood CasinoRobin Schooling

We're sort of assuming everybody in the workforce is at a desk in a high-rise and that technical knowledge is at [their] disposal. There is an entire group of workers and industries that I fear are getting left further and further behind. It's the technology haves and have-nots.

How does email play into the digital divide in the U.S.?

Schooling: In my particular world, I have less than 20% of my employees who have work email or access to network drives. They are not at a desk; they are on the floor in front of customers, and they don't use technology day to day in their jobs. So, they don't have company email addresses.

If you go back further, a lot of my job applicants don't have personal email addresses. I probably have, on average, two people a week we talk to who apply for a job using somebody else's email address. We discover when get hold of them they never got our email and that the person whose email address they used 'didn't let me know it came.' Or, people make up email addresses.

As we talk to people, we find out there truly are people who just don't have email. It's not an age thing. I see people who are 22, and I see people who are 70. We get a lot of calls.

[When we get a resume emailed to us,] we have auto reply, but sometimes it goes to a spam folder, and they don't know how to check a spam folder. We have applicants who don't have desktops or tablets. Their phone is it. And they don't know how to navigate email addresses even if they have email. Instead, we get a lot of calls. It's like 1989.

So, we've tried things with texting. We've tried a cellphone call. But it gets back to the low-wage, entry-level worker with a pay-as-you-go phone. They tried to apply, but we can't reach them on it. It's a challenge. I don't know the answer to the problem. But we have to look at finding multiple ways to connect with people on the applicant side.

There's a digital divide in the U.S., but change has to start somewhere. What are you doing in the office to help the tech have-nots?

Schooling: As we have automated, we enhanced some of the offerings through the system we have for our employees, because we don't have folks who sit at a desk. We can put things out in the cloud to our employee self-service portal, but we're still struggling with employees getting access if they're doing it through their phone.

We have banks of computers in the break room, but many employees have challenges accessing them. They don't know how to use a keyboard or a mouse. That still exists. Everybody doesn't work on the East or West Coasts, and we're not all on Slack.

And it's not just the tech providers [that contribute to the digital divide in the U.S.]; it's the HR service providers. Every year since I've been here, as part of our wellness initiatives, we have a third party come in and do biometric screenings. You get a checkup and sit with a nurse practitioner who logs you in to your account. We do this so that we get you into this wellness tracker for follow-up steps. In order to do that, you have to set up your own account, and that requires an email address and two-factor authentication.

Here’s the challenge: I've got a good 30 employees that do not have a personal email address. They may have access to their mothers' or their wives' or their sisters' [email addresses]. I told the vendor that people coming in can't set up an account because they do not have a personal email, or they are using a family member's [email] who is not there to do two-factor authentication. How do we do that? How do we serve those people? The provider didn't quite believe me.

We know the people that don't have email. How do we solve this? As an HR team, what we do for our population is we try to help people as much as we can to set up accounts. We spend quite a bit of time amongst the team going to Gmail to set up an account and set it up on their phone for them. We try to help them create passwords and show them how to remember where it's stored. It's a challenge to do this one-on-one to help our folks as much as we can, but I think it's important.

In my particular world, I have less than 20% of my employees who have work email or access to network drives.
Robin Schoolingvice president of HR, Hollywood Casino

It's like old-school HR. It's very hands-on and in your face. If you have a small or midsize business and your workforce is all in one place, what you can do there is kind of what we do. It's handholding and bringing along one person at a time. Sometimes, it's even just stopping and asking: If we are going to communicate something or expect an employee to go to a website to accomplish something for a job, are they equipped to do that?

When we think about the digital divide in the U.S., what can be done to help narrow it?

Schooling: This is an issue that worries me. We are just getting further and further away from thinking about those people who need to find jobs or are working hard, but are sitting in companies that don't realize that perhaps there are folks being left behind. These are people who can't do a really cool learning module on their phone.

I have people that are not hipsters -- they have a flip phone, but don't have a data plan. And if there is Wi-Fi, they need to have someone show them how to hook up. They can't sit at home and do onboarding videos or learning snippets.

At the end of the day, I'm thinking about it from [different] sides. Are the vendors remembering when creating products to include the whole audience? Are HR practitioners aware that you need to do more than meet them where they are, but actually bring them with you?

And it's important to remember it's not a generational thing. Some folks coming out of school, college grads even, find themselves in this boat. They come from low-income families, and they've gotten higher ed, but they struggle with the access to the tools and the tech and the knowledge of how to use them.

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