Hey! Are you licensed to drive that PC?

Business travellers have become accustomed to showing an international driver’s licence at rental agencies to prove they are authorized to drive. In Canada this concept may soon shift to the world of employment, with the introduction of the International Computer Driver’s Licence.

Technology is becoming more pervasive in society, to the point where few jobs require absolutely no computer skills. In recognition of this, the International Computer Driver’s Licence (ICDL) has been designed to establish baseline credentials which are recognized globally.

“Jobs that didn’t require IT now do, because everything is inventoried and access managed. So for a custodian to get resources to address a problem, a computer [is used] to identify what is the problem and to communicate for the resources that are going to solve the issue,” said Bryn Jones, president and CEO of ICDL Canada.

According to the ICDL Canada, the licence “certifies that the holder has knowledge of the basic concepts of information technology and is able to use a personal computer and common computer applications at a basic level of competence.”

Mary Jean Kucerak, Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) executive director, believes the licence will prove useful to companies. “I think it is applicable to every employer who is hiring because it provides a basic benchmark level that insures the employer that the perspective employee can handle at least basic computer functions.”

She is not alone in that assessment. “Quite often [prospective employees] can say they have the skills but they may not have a detailed level of skills in certain areas, so to be able to get someone with a certification level of some kind behind them like this (ICDL) would clarify that yes, you do have these particular skills,” said Julie Kaufman, research manager, skills, at IDC (Canada) in Toronto. “It could save time…they can not necessarily skip it (the interview process) but at least will be able to weed out people who don’t need to be there in the first place.”.

According to others it will also help company efficiency.

“We think, and many of our members think, that the average user probably gets five per cent of the functionality of a computer, and if we could double that to 10 per cent that’s a doubling of productivity,” said Gaylen Duncan president and CEO of the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC). Duncan added that since it would affect a company’s bottom line it would be advantageous to have all employees certified.

The computer driver’s licence started in Finland in 1988. By 1995 the organization, European Computer Driver’s Licence (ECDL), created a syllabus and conducted a pilot test in Ireland. It is now licensed in 25 countries including Australia, South Africa and most of Europe. In November 1998 there were 250,000 Europeans with certificates, by November 1999 there were 450,000.

The initiative is governed by a foundation based in Ireland.

The ICDL test is divided into seven modules that can be taken in any order. Each test takes a maximum of 45 minutes. The first module is the only multiple choice/true or false portion, as it deals with basic concepts of IT. Further modules, covering topics such as word processing, databases and spreadsheets, are done with computer simulators.

With the certificate in tow, perspective employees will be able to show qualifications to future employers. Where this all fits in, for the increasing percentage of Canadians who are university graduates, is up for debate. Some view the ICDL as advantageous, while others see it as redundant.

“The basic assumption that our employers make is that our graduates and students have at least, and this is bare minimum, rudimentary computer skills and that is the basic assumption across industry,” said Davis Elisha, executive assistant to the director of student services at the University of Toronto. He added that the certificate alone will not help distinguish one graduate from another.

But Jones sees university graduates benefiting from having the certificate on their resum