Wrapping digital into your career is a crucial step in navigating your personal development path - the Digital Skills Academy plans to help you achieve it
There are many self-taught IT experts out there, working in their own start-up companies or freelancing for others. They might have extensive knowledge of things like web design, coding and project management, but when it comes to moving into a larger company, what they know just doesn’t cut it a lot of the time and the lack of a qualification holds them back.
That’s what happened to Niall Maher (25), who over a year ago decided he wanted to move away from working for himself to finding employment within a bigger organisation.
“When I applied for jobs I was either getting rejected for not having a degree or any team experience. I’m a self-taught web designer with no formal training. At that time I didn’t think there were many gaps in my knowledge of web design.”
But Maher was to find out differently when he decided to take on the one yearBSc in Digital Technology and Design at Digital Skills Academy.
Based in Dublin, the Academy’s international degree programmes are all run online, and are solely focused on serving working professionals, a group very distinct from regular university students.
Academic Leader at the Academy, Barry McAdam says the online approach allows them to offer courses internationally, which means participants get to work with a team of fellow working professionals from all over the world.
“It allows people get their hands dirty. While other forms of online learning can be isolating, the way we run our programmes is based on teamwork, is very social, and means we are building up a community. It comes to life when I see designers or coders collaborating together online and participants getting jobs for other participants.”
The Academy offers a BSc in Digital Technology and Design and a BSc Honours in Digital Technology, Design and Innovation. McAdam says both programmes are aimed at addressing the “considerable skills gap out there in ICT”.
Digital Skills Academy was launched by Paul Dunne in 2008. McAdam says he did this because there were a lot very qualified people out there but there was a “glass ceiling when it came to digital”. It was to give them an opportunity of moving into the digital sphere.
“It’s an attempt to give people a chance to reposition themselves in the world we now live in,” he says.
Digital Skills Academy participant, Susan McNamara (40) would have placed herself in this category. She already has a primary degree but felt her qualifications were holding her back from moving into the web and digital space.
“I work for Otter Products, an American company with a head office in Cork. I’ve been a graphic designer for 20 years and had my own business for seven. I was at a point where I felt going into the future I needed a digital qualification, as I now produce more digital content.”
McAdam says McNamara’s story is quite common.
“A lot of people who have worked their way up through an organisation but don’t have specialised qualifications then realise they need something to actually get to the next level. Also, when people are in an organisation for a while, they start to worry about whether their skills are current. While our programmes teach international best practice in digital, they also very much build on the previous experience of each individual participant. Valuing and building on this experience gives participants much greater confidence that they can also master this digital sphere.”
Both Maher and McNamara feel the Digital Skills Academy method of teaching online is the type of learning which is the way of the future.
McNamara says, “I work for a global company and I thought I knew everything about working on a global team but this makes you realise you didn’t. You learn very quickly how to use other people’s skills to your advantage. My team mates are based in South Africa, Canada and New York. I have made contacts for life from this and I now have a good relationship with coders, project managers, and digital marketers.”
McAdam explains how they deliver the course work to participants.
“We have various ways to interact. When we record chunks of learning to camera, I want to look down the camera and make the person feel like I am sitting right beside them. We (as lecturers) do a lot of training to get that right. Once the programme is up and running we have collaboration days - video conferencing, virtual classrooms and forums.”
In terms of what the international BSc involves, participants have three areas they can specialise in; digital business; digital technology and coding; or digital design and development.
Mcadam says; “the main reason for that; quite simply there are a lot of opportunities in digital and quite a few people take wrong turns. They could be in design and want to move into management but by choosing the stream they are giving us a clear view of where they see themselves in three to five years. There are shared modules including an industry international team project which is a real project for a real client. It’s at the core of what we do. This project could include designing apps for mobile, developing software, prototyping, website services, interface design and can include digital marketing and social media campaigns.”
“We have a range of industry partners including Telefonica, KPMG and British Telecom. We source projects with our links in industry and for most of our partner companies it’s a chance to try something different, to innovate in digital. For course participants, it’s a way for them to develop a really good portfolio piece,” he says.
In terms of how much time participants need to invest, McAdam says, “We limit the amount of taught content we deliver to about eight hours per week but there is self-directed learning also required. The total amount of time required is similar to taking a part-time masters where it’s the equivalent of attending college two evenings each week and then having your reading, research and project work on top. The difference with us is the greater flexibility to attend the majority of your lectures at times that are convenient to your individual schedule, whether it’s early morning on a Tuesday, Thursday evening, or Saturday mornings that suits your life.”
In terms of future career prospects, Maher says, “I’ve already started interviewing with some top firms, even though I’m only half way through the course, so prospects are good.”
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