Ensuring Islanders have the skills they need for the future

NEXT month Digital Jersey will start to launch a raft of free new courses designed to help businesses by boosting Islanders’ IT skills. Ian Heath spoke to Daniel Rowles, director of the organisation’s Digital Leadership programme, to find out more

Digital Jersey, Green Street. DJ Academy...Daniel Rowles, program director digital leadership program...In main lecture theatre.                                                              Picture: ROB CURRIE. (30840100)
Digital Jersey, Green Street. DJ Academy...Daniel Rowles, program director digital leadership program...In main lecture theatre. Picture: ROB CURRIE. (30840100)

The use of digital technology increasingly forms a part of everyone’s lives and the Covid-19 pandemic has without doubt accelerated this trend.

Digital Jersey has secured £375,000 from the government’s £50 million fiscal-stimulus fund, which the organisation intends to use to make sure local businesses and residents are ready for the ‘new normal’.

Daniel Rowles, a key player at the Digital Jersey Academy, explained that this would involve offering a range of courses targeted at specific skill areas following research carried out by his company, Target Internet.

‘The places are open to anyone for the training and it is aiming to help businesses on-Island achieve what they need to achieve,’ he said.

‘We’ve based it on where we know the skills gaps are. I run a company called Target Internet and we do this thing called the digital skills benchmark. We work with the likes of Google, Apple, Vodafone, all those kinds of big-label brands.

‘We know where the skills gaps are and therefore we can provide those skills on Island. We’ve broken it down into different topic areas, but we’ve basically got the more technical aspects – coding, web development, web design – and you’ve then got the data science or power BI [business intelligence], those kind of skills analysing data. Then we have creative, which is creating videos, creating podcasts, graphic design; we’ve also got surrounding stuff, such as digital marketing, and we have digital enablement, which will be about getting people up to the basic level of digital skills. The whole aim of this is for industry, but also for individuals who just don’t feel confident with their digital skills and want to improve them to improve their day-by-day life.’

Mr Rowles said that the programme, which starts next month, would involve a range of subjects, and that there would also be different timetables and courses offering informal to high-level accreditations.

‘The courses are starting to run in June but they will be starting throughout this year and then running into next year as well,’ he said.

‘There’s a staggered start to all those things and it’s everything from half-day courses through to accredited programs that go on for a number of months.

‘The aim is that people can pop in for a half day to knowledge up if they want, or they can come in and do an accredited programme and get a certified qualification off the back of that.

‘Equally, they can come in and just get some practical hands-on knowledge – we’re doing lunchtime courses, evening courses, daytime courses, weekends. It can match to everyone’s requirements and can fit around working days.’

He stressed the importance that digital skills play a role across the entire Jersey economy.

‘When we talk about digital, some people always think of digital as a kind of separate sector,’ he said.

‘The reality is that digital is something that’s enabling all of those other industries to do better. We have everyone from people in the finance industry through to agencies who deliver digital services themselves, who want to come in and improve their digital skills with us.

‘What this does is make sure organisations are better prepared, but also the agencies and freelancers and people who work with them are doing a better job as well. It is aimed at everyone.’

Discussing the trend of digital acceleration due to the Covid-19 crisis, Mr Rowles said that the evidence he had seen suggested the pandemic had had a ‘massive’ impact.

‘I head up digital transformation at Imperial College in the business school. We have this MBA program there and an executive-education program where people are going through and looking at digital transformation,’ he said.

‘Digital transformation really is about saying where are we as an organisation now? And where do we need to be in order to work in this fast-paced environment?

‘People are realising the environment that they’re operating in is moving very, very quickly and businesses aren’t keeping pace. What the pandemic has done is given people a burning platform to realise we have to do this now.

‘We have to communicate differently, we have to engage with our staff differently, we need to deliver our products and services differently as well. It’s led to people accelerating that transformation, whatever it may be.

‘That might be as simple as they need to get all their staff working on [Microsoft] Teams or it might be a complete transformation of how they deliver their services.’

Mr Rowles added that it was hoped that as well as boosting businesses across the Island, the fiscal-stimulus funding provided for the new programme would boost the academy itself.

‘What it also gives us is potentially an ongoing revenue stream for the academy on an ongoing basis,’ he said.

‘The key thing with this is that it provides the skills we need on Island, which is great. Normally to fund something like this you need student fees and you need a huge number of students to make it work.

‘We make the academy work with those fees but we also top it up with two things. One is doing external training for companies on Island. And then the students themselves actually work on live projects and the academy gets paid for them to deliver those, as well as them [the students] getting real-world experience.

‘This will help with the ongoing funding because it will create online courses. We’ll then sell those afterwards and that will bring money for the academy.’

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