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Profiling Internet use among workers in the information and communications technologies sector

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by Larry McKeown, Ben Veenhof and Jeff Corman

Internet use is a key hallmark of an information society. Assessing internet use today goes beyond access to encompass a cluster of behaviours that reflect the individual’s ability to participate productively in an information economy. This study compares the pattern of Internet use of Canadians working in the information and communications technology industries with that of other Canadians.

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About this article

While Internet use has increased significantly over the last decade among all socio-economic groups, differences related to the diversity of Internet use have become the focus of recent studies (Montagnier and Vickery, 2007). Measuring individual Internet use has evolved beyond the simple metrics of access or connectivity; it now encompasses online behaviours that reflect the intensity and scope of individuals’ use of the Internet as well as their perception of what they can achieve with their Internet skills. Identifying the workplace influence on the personal use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) may help further our understanding of these behaviours.

For instance, many workers in ICT industries have a higher exposure to the Internet in their day-to-day work. Based on findings from the 2005 Canadian Internet Use Survey (CIUS), this article compares the Internet use of ICT sector workers with that of other workers in the economy with respect to propensity to go online for personal, non-business reasons, as well as level of Internet experience and scope of use. As ICT sector workers are likely to be more educated and have higher levels of income (factors associated with higher Internet use), a control group with similar education and income profiles is used for comparison.

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Definitions of workers in information and communications technologies and other sectors

The ICT sector is defined as the aggregation of industries primarily engaged in producing goods or services, or supplying technologies, used to electronically capture, transmit and display data and information (see text box). This definition was developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as a standard to monitor ICT sector development and to facilitate comparisons across countries and over time. Manufacturing industries in the ICT sector include establishments that manufacture products intended to fulfil information processing and communications functions including transmission and display, or use electronic processing to detect, measure and/or record physical phenomena, or to control a physical process.  The products of the ICT services industries are used for information processing and communication by electronic means.1

For the purposes of this article, ICT sector workers are defined as those individuals employed in the industries that comprise the ICT sector (see text box).  It must be emphasized that while workers in ICT industries are more than likely to use ICTs such as the Internet during the course of their work, there are some workers in these industries not employed in ICT-related jobs. Likewise, a portion of workers in non-ICT industries are employed in ICT-related jobs. Thus, an alternative taxonomy could be based on occupation.2

Since ICT sector workers have higher levels of education and income than others, workers from another group also known to have high levels of education and income are used for comparison purposes. The Professional, Scientific and Technical Services (PST) group was selected for this purpose (see text box).3 Again, we have defined PST sector workers as individuals employed in the PST sector, although some of them may not be working in these professional capacities. To complete the typology, other workers consist of those employed in industries outside the ICT and PST sectors. The analysis also includes people not in the labour force, such as retirees.  

Both ICT sector and PST sector workers are more likely to have university education and report higher levels of household income than other Canadians (Table 1). When we controlled for household income, education was found to be the most important factor associated with Internet use in Canada (McKeown, Noce and Czerny, 2007). However, in 2005, the sectors differed in that three-quarters of ICT sector workers were men, compared with just over half of PST sector workers.

Table 1 Selected characteristics of workers, by status of work, 2005. Opens a new browser window.

Table 1
Selected characteristics of workers, by status of work, 2005

Measures of Internet use

The first indicator examined is the prevalence of Internet use for personal, non-business reasons from any location (including home, work, school, library or other). In 2005, ICT sector workers had overwhelmingly (94%) adopted the Internet for personal use (Table  2). Likewise, PST sector workers also reported using the Internet at a much higher rate (92%) than workers in other sectors (77%) or those not in the labour force (39%).  

Table 2 Selected Internet use attributes of workers, by status of work, 2005. Opens a new browser window.

Table 2
Selected Internet use attributes of workers, by status of work, 2005

A large majority (85%) of Internet users working in the ICT sector reported five years’ experience or more online. Despite the similar age and income profiles of workers in both sectors, ICT sector workers used the Internet more frequently and also spent more time online than workers in the PST sector. And 68% of ICT sector workers reported using their Internet connection at work for personal, non-business uses. In all of these use attributes, ICT sector workers reported the highest levels. As well, both ICT and PST sector workers reported using their Internet connection at work for personal use more frequently than did workers in other sectors.

Table 3 shows selected online uses of the Internet from home by workers in these sectors. Out of 20 Internet activities measured by the CIUS, home Internet users working in the ICT sector reported the highest average number of Internet activities (12), followed by workers in the PST sector (10), other sectors (9), and persons not in the labour force (8).  E-mail is a ubiquitous online activity and virtually all home Internet users working in the ICT and PST sectors report using the Internet for this reason. Other activities, such as Internet banking, are less common and may be more popular among individuals who have a relatively high level of Internet comfort. Indicatively, nearly four in five home Internet users working in the ICT sector (79%) reported doing banking online.

Table 3 Internet activities of workers, by status of work, 2005. Opens a new browser window.

Table 3
Internet activities of workers, by status of work, 2005

As a final measure, individuals’ participation in electronic commerce may serve to indicate the extent to which Canadians have embraced the digital economy.  In 2005, just over one-quarter (28%) of adult Canadians reported making an online purchase from home, work, school, a library or other locations, such as a friend’s house or an Internet café. However, about two-thirds (67%) of ICT sector workers and over half (53%) of PST sector workers reported making an online purchase in 2005.  

From access to impacts

The focus of Internet research has shifted from investigating connectivity and basic use to understanding intensity and diversity of uses as well as the impacts on society. With this shift, there is a need to look at factors relating to the competencies and skills of Internet users, including ‘self-efficacy' — their perception of what they can achieve with their skills (Underhill and Ladds 2007). The more comfortable people are online, the greater their propensity to engage in complex and more intense Internet activities.

This study found that exposure to the Internet (and related ICTs) at work is a factor associated with a higher number of home-based, personal online uses. Those in the ICT sector were shown to have a different pattern of online use.  In this descriptive analysis, PST sector workers served as a comparison group to account for the effect of higher income and education levels.

A multivariate analysis could be used to control statistically for factors such as age, income and education, all of which previous studies have found to influence connectivity and basic use (McKeown, Noce and Czerny 2007).4  We suggest that the emerging metrics of Internet use incorporate the human capital component of ICT usage (Veenhof, Clermont and Sciadas, 2005; Hargittai 2002) as more work in the area of digital literacy is needed for understanding Internet use behaviour and impacts.

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Hargittai, E. 2002. “Second-level digital divide: Differences in people’s online skills”. First Monday 7 (4). April.

Montagnier, P. and G. Vickery. 2007. Broadband and ICT Access and Use by Households and Individuals. Paris: OECD Working Party on the Information Economy.

McKeown, L., A. Noce, and P. Czerny. 2007. “Factors Associated with Internet Use: Does Rurality Matter?”. Rural and Small Town Canada Analysis Bulletin. Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 21-006-XIE, Vol. 7 no. 3.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). 2006. “ICT skills and employment”. Chapter 6 in OECD Information Technology Outlook, Paris.

Statistics Canada. 2003. Canada’s Journey to an Information Society, Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 56-508-XIE. Ottawa.

Underhill, C. and C. Ladds. 2007. “Connecting with Canadians: Assessing the Use of Government On-Line”. Connectedness Series. Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 56F0004MIE, no. 15.

Veenhof, B., Y. Clermont, and G. Sciadas. 2005. “Literacy and Gigital Technologies: Linkages and Outcomes”. Connectedness Series. Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 56F0004MIE, no. 12.

About the authors

Larry McKeown and Ben Veenhof are with the Science, Innovation and Electronic Information Division (SIEID), and Jeff Corman is with Industry Canada. For more information about this article, please contact


  1. The OECD definition is based on the International Standard Industrial Classification (ISIC Rev3). Statistics Canada employs the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) for industry data. Figures for the ICT sector are reported based on an established ISICNAICS 2002 industry concordance (Statistics Canada 2003). In 2007, NAICS industry definitions were revised. However, since this study uses results from the 2005 CIUS, the industry classifications used at that time (NAICS 2002) are retained for the purposes of this analysis.

  2. The OECD has analysed the concentration of ICT-skilled employment across industry sectors, including those not classified to the ICT sector.  These analyses, for example, make distinctions among three types of ICT competencies by occupation: ICT specialists, and advanced and basic ICT users (see OECD 2006).

  3. In terms of their relative magnitude in the economy, the ICT and PST sectors hold similar shares. In 2005, they accounted for 4.5% and 4.6% shares, respectively, of total economy gross domestic product at basic prices, based on chained (2002) dollars.

  4. The implied direction of cause and effect is not entirely clear as those people with a propensity for digital engagement may seek education and work opportunities in the ICT area.