Upskilling: The butterfly effect

Retraining the workforce is critical in these changing times – and the demand is high. By Rory Steel, head of Digital Jersey Academy

Whenever the skills debate is mentioned, there are many facts thrown into the conversation, such as the Covid pandemic accelerated digital adoption, it resulted in many people losing their jobs (the labour market reduced by 64% during lockdown), the increase in the rate at which roles were automated.

Employers across all industries are desperate for workers with the right digital skills. However, what we didn’t know was how in demand the upskilling courses would be. In just a few weeks, our free digital short courses had over five hundred people sign up to retrain, with some courses oversubscribed twice over.

While we didn’t anticipate the take-up would be so quick (over 40 courses with 600 spaces, now at near full capacity), what we did know was that the courses are very much needed. As part of our Digital Skills Strategy, we use the labour insights report from Geek talent to identify the key skills and areas of the economy which are most in need of upskilling and retraining. Thanks to funding from government, we are now creating a talent pipeline supplying much-needed skills into our workforce and economy.

Why does it matter for Jersey?

Our free part-time courses are for anyone in the Island who wants to upskill and retrain. It is critical that these courses are open to everyone. With no barrier to entry on cost, we also ensure that the times we hold our classes can work for everyone around existing jobs or childcare. There should be no barriers to anyone when it comes to upskilling.

We know it’s needed. Apart from the pandemic, there are a range of job roles which are being automated, and this particularly impacts the finance sector where many high numerated jobs exist. Accountants, fund accountants and administrators and relationship managers, are in the top categories for jobs which are being impacted by digitalisation. Yet many of the skills are transferable to new roles, with some retraining. This is critical for individuals and it’s critical for our economy.

I’ll cut right to the chase, why did the government award £375,000 to Digital Jersey to create these courses as part of Fiscal Stimulus? One example is our coding course, it’s been running for over seven years and past graduates include individuals who used to work in finance, hospitality, retail or looking for employment. It may be our longest running course, but it hasn’t lost its appeal and graduates are in high demand, with employers waiting for new recruits. We are currently over-subscribed twice for this course, which can take a maximum of 16 students and teach them for six months. If you consider that the average salary for a software developer is between £45,000 and £47,000, then that’s potentially between £5,000 and £8,000 in tax from each person, depending on their circumstances. Let’s drop that to an average of £6,000pp. That means from one course alone, the government and therefore the people of Jersey, will earn back that money within four years. Now consider that we have thirty courses and over 500 people already booked on them until the end of this year, and you can see just how valuable they are.

Now, the maths is by no means foolproof, it’s assuming that the individuals aren’t already in work and other variables, but it puts into context the huge financial value to our economy that upskilling and reskilling Islanders brings. I’ve not even touched on the issues of housing and population control. We need to invest in local people to avoid the need to employ from off-Island.

How does it help Employers?

The other side of the coin is the employer. We have in the past lost many dynamic growth businesses from the Island, because they couldn’t find enough staff to fill vacancies. By restricting growth of organisations, or losing them altogether, that hits us all economically and ultimately, we lose out as an Island. Digital skills aren’t just for a niche tech industry. Every business now uses digital to varying degrees, whether that’s digital marketing, ecommerce and websites, data analytics, or artificial intelligence.

What do individuals get out of it?

Critically, these courses are changing individuals’ lives. We have a diverse range of applicants, and what’s important is that everyone can have access to them (if they aren’t full) because there is no barrier to entry. They are free; they don’t require minimum qualifications; we hold them at times which are convenient for those who might be working or dealing with childcare.

Laura Van Rheineck-Leyssius has just completed the six-week Introduction to Digital Marketing course. She’s 28, with two young children and has been out of the workplace for five years. She used to work in fund administration.

‘Now my son is starting school and my daughter is at nursery I have a bit more time to myself and I knew I’d always want to go back to work but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. It’s quite daunting when you’ve been out of the workplace for five years. As a full-time mother, you can lose yourself a bit.

‘I wasn’t sure about digital marketing. My age group grew up in the social media age, so we haven’t had to learn it, we just grew up with it, but I understood that a business needs to be online. The six-week introductory course was amazing and Daniel Rowles, the lecturer, was really good and supportive and took the time even after classes to talk me through things and give me the push that I needed.

‘I’ve now applied and been accepted for the two-year part-time Digital Leadership programme. It’s helped me think that this is now my time, and I can do it. I hope to get a job in digital marketing, and I’d urge everyone to expand their skills. Once you’ve made that first step, everything else follows.’

What’s next?

So what is next? We have to keep doing this. We not only need to upskill the next 600 people and 600 more after them, but we need to keep those skills up to date. We have, with the support of government, started a talent pipeline that can keep Jersey competitive, and we aren’t working alone on this, Highlands is also playing a huge part, with their own courses currently available. What we need is to keep on doing it. Businesses need also to step up and stand with government in funding this training, as well as in employing its output.

It really is a butterfly effect. Upskill one person and that can have a significant impact on not just that individual, but a business, and ultimately our economy.

nYou can view the Digital Academy courses: For Skills insights:

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