A new academy offering free courses in digital skills is poised to help support economic recovery following the coronavirus crisis as the pace of digitisation gathers momentum. The Digital Skills Academy, from North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College, which was launched to help businesses across the West Midlands to transform their workforces, is expecting demand to increase dramatically thanks to digital skills transformation seen during lockdown.

Courses, including CompTIA IT Fundamentals (ITF+) and apprenticeships at a range of levels are available online and will also run from 20 July 2020 at the Academy’s base which is being set up at the Coventry University Technology Park in the heart of the city’s technology zone.

Matt Smith, Director of the Digital Skills Academy said, “The digital sector is booming, and we have seen over recent months how businesses that use technology creatively can succeed under even the most difficult circumstances. GPs are moving to video consultations, up to 60 per cent of the adult population has been working productively at home, and there has been a huge increase in e-commerce with online retail sales increasing by around one third compared with the same period a year ago.

Never before has the importance of digital inclusion been more apparent or more urgent. The drive to get the remaining one fifth of the UK population who currently don’t use the internet to join the online community represents a significant challenge.

“There has never been a better time to focus on upskilling your technical capabilities and the Digital Skills Academy is here to help. Whether you are new to IT or inspired to join or progress in the sector, we can offer routes that will help you at home and in your career.”

The Digital Skills Academy is helping students like Su Green after redundancy provided the trigger to update her IT skills and improve her confidence through an online learning programme. Su, from Sutton Coldfield, said, “After losing my job, I was looking online to find a course that would help showcase my skills and give my CV a boost. Being self-taught, I didn’t have the qualifications in IT to demonstrate my knowledge and capabilities and the CompTIA Fundamentals course seemed an ideal solution. Because I live in the West Midlands Combined Authority postcode area, the course was free for me which was a bonus.

“It is a beginners’ course, so you don’t need any prior knowledge but my experience using technology at work gave me a really good starting point. For me, learning the correct terminology was the biggest benefit and I have really expanded on my knowledge. During lockdown, the course has been ideal because I have not needed to go into college. I studied for about an hour a day over around six weeks and my assessor regularly checked in with me by phone to see how I was getting on or I needed any help. The course is easy to follow with multiple choice answers and feedback available if you get something wrong at first. You can also practice taking the exam before you complete it, so you do feel very well-prepared.”

The CompTIA Fundamentals course covers the basics of computing, systems, data and troubleshooting, applications, and software work, installing printers and other devices, and how establish a wireless network. It also covers how to use databases and the basics of reducing security risks.

Tech and digital is the fifth largest sector in the West Midlands economy with nearly 14,000 tech and digital businesses, more than any other combined authority area in the country. West Midlands mayor, Andy Street, has described digital as the ‘golden thread’ that links all industries providing future 21st century job opportunities.

Matt Smith added, “With our courses being offered free to people living in a West Midlands postcode area, there has never been a better time to get online and start learning.”

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