DigitalGrads: the free programme for students
Undergraduate degrees are undeniably losing their value for some students trying to break into employment. Many young people are buying into higher education as a product, leaving them with a large amount of debt and little prospects due to high levels of competition. It is instilled in us in college and by parents that university is a step that will open our future up to more options. For many, a degree is not enough anymore. – employers want skills and experience.
It may appear rather bleak, but there are many different pathways to employment. DigitalGrads is a company based in Brighton who focus on teaching digital skills to support you in your pursuit of employment. You may have seen their stall at one of the careers fairs held in the Amex Stadium.
After leaving her managing director role, Lucy Smith, founder of digital grads, established her own company to assist graduates with skills needed for website and online development.
DigitalGrads provides skills and a platform on their ‘Hiring Hub’, which is like LinkedIn for graduates so they can be contacted by prospective employers.
What changes have you started to acknowledge in this field of work from when you were studying media at a higher education level to now in the industry?
The most obvious thing is the technology. I remember at university when I was doing a module in disrupting technologies, really struggling to read and understand some of the literature […] it’s about nothing we do now, and all the technology we use today never existed back then.
The formats change, the way that content is distributed changes but the theory of how to make content and concentrating on your user and making your messages relevant for your audience you’re creating the content for – none of that changes.
Do you think digitalisation is having a positive effect on businesses and social change?
From a commercial, fiscal point of view, I suppose digital now means that businesses can make more money; there are more revenue opportunities.
One of the things that I’ve recognised is people don’t like answering the phone anymore. The English language is unfortunately being jeopardised a little bit with bad spelling, bad grammar, too much use of emojis. Overall, I think the good things probably outweigh the bad things. We should all take some responsibility and be aware of those bad things and try to right the wrongs where we see fit.
In light of Theresa May’s speech on post-18 education and funding, do you think the higher education system needs to be remodelled?
The education system in terms of too many people going, quite possibly. I think other schemes are good things for other people to do. Getting a degree shouldn’t be an elitist thing, it should be open to everybody, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that a degree is the right route for everybody. It might be if you’re a more practical person it’s going to be more beneficial for you to go and learn on the job. Perhaps do an apprenticeship, perhaps do some kind of training scheme, but it’s a juggernaut, right?
What was the first thing that inspired you to leave your managing director role and start this company up?
The thing that inspired DigitalGrads was really the digital skills gap appearing in the headlines back in 2016, coupled with at the time I was doing a lot of training.
It occurred to me: there’s the digital skills gap, the teams inside these big organisations haven’t got the skills, the new skills. So I thought, “there’s an opportunity here…here’s my business opportunity!” And who do I start with, where does it start? I picked grads because they’re the group that lack the most practical digital skills. It’s no slight on the universities but they don’t teach how to create an email campaign, they don’t teach how to run Facebook ads as part of their degrees, they can’t do it. So, that was what I thought I would concentrate on.
How did you acquire these digital skills in the first place?
I worked on StartUps.co.uk, which was actually the UK’s first website for anyone starting and running a business. It was my job to optimise the website. That was back in the days when search optimisation was really new. Google has existed for a couple of years, but it wasn’t the dominant search engine.
More recently, I worked as part of a two-man team that launched Readly to the UK market. This is a mobile app start up where I learnt, self-taught really, how to optimise an app, how to get it to the top of the app store […] Pretty much anything I’ve learnt, I’ve learnt on the job.
What is digital marketing?
The way in which you engage with and communicate to an audience and make them do something. Whether it’s purchase, whether it’s download an app, whether it’s to respond to a conversation. Crucially it’s done through some kind of digital medium.
What does your website offer?
Part of our marketing strategy was saying we’re building the DigitalGrads community. Our community includes all our grads who have gone through our programme and grads who write for us on our website. Students are welcome to write for us as well.
What does the Digital Grads programme involve?
We offer online training [..] All we ask is they work hard, are dedicated and committed to the training. They’re things that you are going to need to be throughout your career if you’re going to do well.
Whilst it’s free, it’s very much down to the individual. If they want to put the effort in, if they want to put the hard work in, this is the real world and this is what they’re going to have to do.
How long does your programme take?
We’ve got lots of different modules of training. If you completed a whole course, if you did it back-to-back, which we don’t suggest you do, the whole thing would probably take you a day to complete. We suggest that you break that up over a week period. Usually a week and that makes it manageable, but it also means that you can kind of make notes, watch it again if you need to watch it again, by section.
Do people have to complete the full programme and what areas do you train in?
They can cherry-pick. Our aim is that we’re going to have a full suite of digital marketing training by the end of the year. At the moment, they can pick from social media marketing, which is on Facebook and Twitter. Or search engine marketing, which includes search engine optimisation and PPC advertising for Google ad words. Going live shortly, is a video marketing course, and as I say this year our plan is to add more and more training, hopefully one a month.
When are your graduates eligible to be put on the Hiring Hub on your website?
We try and get all of the grads that go onto the Hiring Hub to have 80 per cent or more in their scores, because that shows us that they’ve understood the training. Also, if you’ve understood the training then we believe that you’re going to be put confidently in that interview about these subjects.
How much does the programme cost?
Grads don’t pay at all.
Graduates come out of university nowadays with £40,000 worth of debt, and we know that the grads will have reasonably relevant degrees and have done some good things, but they haven’t got the skills that the employers want.
Can students include this qualification on their CV?
Yeah, absolutely! We’re not accredited yet, but that’s something I want to get, I want our training to be accredited. It’s something we’re going to go for when we’re a bit more established. Certainly, in terms of listing training, we encourage the grads to list the training they’ve done with us on LinkedIn and on their CV, because it’s real, and it exists.
What is the best way to get in touch with you about the scheme?
If someone is interested in the programme, there’s an ‘apply now’ button on the side [of the website] and there’s just a brief form to fill in. That’s the best way to start the process. If they’ve got questions before hand they can email us or they can phone us.
If you are interested in the Digital Grads programme, get in touch via their website, email, telephone or social media.
+44 (0)20 3917 0790