Growing our Digital Future

Ryan Gibson

We are working closely with Accenture to encourage schools to participate in their Digital Skills programme – a free initiative for schools to help students enhance their experiences of digital communications.

Thanks to Ryan Gibson, Facilitator for the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot, for this blog about digital careers in the North East, and the many reasons why teachers should encourage students to participate in the programme.

I wonder if like me, you have often heard phrases such as the ‘digital economy’, ‘digital literacy’ or ‘digital community’ but not really taken the time to reflect on what these actually mean, their impact on economic growth, the prosperity of the region, more and better jobs and the implications for how we prepare young people to enter and thrive in an ever changing labour market.

A North East of England Chamber of Commerce survey in 2015 found that 66% of businesses believed that education was not effectively preparing young people for work. The House of Lords have stated that digital skills should be taught as a third core subject, valued as important as achievement in Maths and English.

How many of us now check the news using an app on our phone, connect with friends and family on facebook, use internet banking, shop online, follow people on twitter or connect with them on LinkedIn. When reflecting on your own professional role, I wonder if you recognise similar things to me? I am increasingly working with platforms such as Google Docs and Dropbox, collecting, collating, presenting and evaluating big data, tweeting, using LinkedIn, using Skype and writing blogs! It is challenging isn’t it and certainly something I was not prepared for. I had to learn as I went, picking up bits and pieces from colleagues who seemed to have mastered this whole new world.

Businesses, and especially SMEs, report that digital skills are becoming essential in all areas of work, regardless of the sector. Indeed a quick glance at online job posts and vacancy websites reinforces the growing demand for digitally competent individuals. While it is not possible to predict exactly what digital skills a young person may need in the future, it is important that we work to ensure that they can evidence a level of digital skills that will appeal to an employer – ensuring that they are both prepared and equipped to take advantage of better job opportunities.

So what exactly are those job opportunities in the North East. Well, take a look at our refreshed Strategic Economic Plan for the region. The North East digital community is one of the most vibrant, productive and rapidly developing in the UK.

With over 29,000 IT and digital employees working in the region and a further 15,250 creative industries employees, we have a technology industry valued at £2 billion – part of a northern ICT economy worth £12 billion. And isn’t it fantastic that the Headquarters of FTSE 100 listed software leader, Sage, shared service centres for HP, BT, Accenture and IBM are all located in the North East.

There is also a fantastic network of business support organisations operating here in the region, which I will talk about in a future blog.

So, with fantastic opportunities comes a key challenge – how can we better prepare and equip each and every young person with the digital skills they need to take advantage of job opportunities and thrive in this hotbed of digital activity? We are delighted to support Accenture’s ‘Digital Skills’ programme, as it’s a fantastic way of doing just that.

This free online course, designed by Accenture, is available to 16+ year olds and focuses on six modules:

  • Digital fundamentals
  • Social media
  • Digital marketing
  • User Experience
  • Mobility
  • Analytics

These six units can be integrated into sixth form / college curriculum or can be studied by students in their own time and at their own pace. The MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) uses the Future Learn platform to deliver an innovative social learning approach, supported with over 90 bitesize videos and individualised assessments to recognize achievement. On completion, students receive an Accenture ‘digital badge’, accrediting and validating their learning and allowing them to evidence their skills to employers across the region.

As an educator, I can’t help but see how beneficial this could be on a student’s UCAS, apprenticeship or job application form and how important it is to help young people build their professional online profile. With 27% growth in digital salaries in the North East, over 1500 current vacancies in the region, a projected 745000 more workers needed with digital skills by the end of 2017 and 49% of SMEs saying they lack workers with basic digital skills – can we really afford not to take advantage of such amazing opportunities?

If you think that your students could benefit from this free programme, please contact [email protected] by the end of June. Sign up now and be ready to begin the course in September.