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Enhancing digital skills – are we experts or novices?

A confession . . . surely I can’t be the only person back in January who had never heard of Zoom? writes Dave Crew, Head of Business Growth and Employer Partnership at Weston College, in the latest blog from the college.

If there has ever been a calendar year that has thrown the use of technology to the forefront of our lives, it’s 2020. One of my clients, a manufacturing business in Somerset, said to me the other day that it feels like the ‘tech agenda’ in business has lurched forward many years in a matter of months.

Some background research has proved this is the case. Reading the 2020 Transformation with Tech report published by Lloyds Bank confirmed that almost half of businesses in the UK said that they may have ceased trading had it not been for the use of technology. That’s roughly 2.7 million businesses in the UK. 40% of businesses have now increased trading online during COVID through ecommerce activity during the pandemic and 12% have begun using analytics to better understand their customers. In excess of 4,000 online shops have been created in the South West during the pandemic.

The ‘digital’ agenda affects the vast majority in business, with a revolution happening in many industries including; retail, healthcare and agriculture to name a few. I remember visiting a farm last year as a judge for the Somerset Business Awards and their use of technology to monitor the health of animals was incredible. Tech really is everywhere!

Speaking from a personal perspective at Weston College, we’re a large education provider delivering training across the South West. Back in March, we had to covert the entire business online within 48 hours ahead of the first lockdown. The use of Microsoft Teams has been a revolution with staff delivering over 4,000 online training sessions during the first week of lockdown in March. Also, from a project management perspective, we’ve used it to galvanise colleagues to mobilise projects that will ultimately change lives through education and training.

We’ve also been supporting businesses with our students helping to upgrade websites for employers affected by the pandemic, IT students are now on voluntary industry placements with employers offering an extra pair of hands. Tech will change the face of Weston as in December, we open a ‘tech hub’ in our local shopping centre, with students supporting  employers to upgrade their digital shop window, visibly kickstarting regeneration in the town.

We’ve also seen a surge in demand for digital apprentices from so many industries (not just technology businesses), bucking the national trend with a growing number of digital degree apprentices. Employers accessing four years of university level training for their apprentice, which is 95% funded by Government, are now looking at this option to develop skilled talent. The demand has led to us launching a new cyber security apprenticeship, and a data analytics apprenticeship, providing a pathway for people of all ages to train in these important areas.

Finally, as a Microsoft Showcase College, we’re supporting existing employees to upskill in using Office 365 packages through our bronze, silver and gold programmes. We’re using our education funding to subside training costs, with training online through you guessed it . . . Microsoft Teams!

To answer the question in the title of this blog, most of us are novices finding our way through our own tech journey. What’s important is that we access the support available.

The support is available for you at Weston College. Contact us at employers@weston.ac.uk if you need advice or support.

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