UC Answers: How do I hone digital skills during COVID?

UC Division of Career Education offers free, inexpensive opportunities to level up

Even before the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, our economy was already in the midst of a digital transformation. By forcing businesses to become even more reliant on technology to continue operating, COVID-19 caused that transformation to accelerate.

“We were forced into learning new ways of working together, new ways of communicating and new ways of doing business,” said Todd Foley, director of digital innovation with the University of Cincinnati Division of Experience-based Learning and Career Education. “What we thought was going to happen over a period of several years instead happened in just a short couple of months.”

Foley and his colleagues already knew the digital transformation was driving a skills gap that caused skilled positions to go unfilled for want of qualified candidates. The situation is more dire than ever; according to the World Economic Forum, 54% of the workforce will require significant reskilling and upskilling by 2022. 

We asked Foley to discuss how UC is helping students, job seekers and workers bridge a rapidly widening digital skills gap by providing them with upskilling opportunities. 

Why is now the right time for people to look into 'leveling up' their digital skills? 

There’s no better time than right now to begin upskilling because just about everything you want to learn is online. We all now have access to the greatest catalog of learning in human history — and most of it is freely accessible to us. All we need to do is find the motivation and the curiosity necessary to learn new skills.

Another thing to consider is that as more and more companies move to upskilling and reskilling their workforce, getting into the practice of upskilling now will set you up for future success.

Upskilling is reflective of the same practices that full-time employees are experiencing in their fields. As our industries become more digitally integrated, students and full-time employees alike must adapt to the latest software and technology to maintain relevance in their fields. In order to avoid obsolescence from automation, everyone needs to constantly be in pursuit of continual learning and skill development.

One of the best ways to leverage your experiences and land new internship, co-op or full-time job opportunities is to earn industry-recognized credentials through upskilling. Earning an industry-recognized credential validates your technical skills and expertise and grows your career.

Todd Foley Director of Digital Innovation, UC Division of Experience-based Learning and Career Education

What are some ways they can do that through UC? 

Every student at the University of Cincinnati has free access to LinkedIn Learning. This platform has thousands of courses — many of which come with certificates — that you can use to explore and become more knowledgeable. LinkedIn Learning also has preparatory courses to help you prepare to take certifications in other areas as well. 

One of the best ways to leverage your experiences and land new internship, co-op or full-time job opportunities is to earn industry-recognized credentials through upskilling. Earning an Industry Recognized Credential validates your technical skills and expertise and grows your career. 

UC  also offers popular online programs in critical fields like data science, cybersecurity, digital marketing, creative design, research and more through our Digital Skills Lab to help you earn industry recognized credentials. The Digital Skills Lab partners with well-known providers such as Microsoft, Dassault Systemes, Google, Autodesk and Salesforce to offer online training programs, many of which are free or low cost. 

Who is eligible, and who stands to benefit most from using this time to hone their digital skills?

For students, upskilling with new digital and technical skills enables them to stand out with employers. It helps cut through a lot of the noise in the hiring process. With an Industry Recognized Credential, you don’t have to worry about whether a potential employer believes that you know how to accomplish a technical task. The credential indicates that you took the time to learn a new skill and you’ve mastered it.

UC is also serving our community by developing innovative approaches to upskilling and reskilling, focused on individuals who want to explore new job and career possibilities in technology.  There are a lot of entry-level job opportunities out there that don’t require a college degree in technology, and instead an Industry Recognized Credential will prepare you for those jobs. We want to help those individuals who are interested in a pathway to a career in technology find training and job opportunities through things like UC’s NEXT Apprenticeship program.

Through a $12 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, UC has developed new pathways for folks in our community to learn new digital and technical skills and find potential apprenticeships with local and regional companies.  The idea here is to offer the requisite basic training someone needs to land an entry-level role in technology, and then provide them with a pathway back to the university as a matriculated student to earn their associates or bachelors degree in information technology or other related fields — after they’ve had a chance to work in the field and potentially earn a solid wage. For example, the Ohio Cyber Range, which is hosted by the University of Cincinnati, developed several entry-level bootcamp trainings for non-matriculated students.

What is UC doing to keep costs low for learners looking to upskill? 

UC has been able to develop several opportunities for students to upskill at no cost to them — or in some cases very low cost. 

For example, we have a partnership with the IBM Skills Academy where our faculty teach students from any background concepts like artificial intelligence, blockchain, cybersecurity and data science. These Industry Recognized Credentials are free to UC students. When students earn the credentials from these courses, they get access to IBM’s global talent network where employers are seeking students with the exact skills they learned. 

Finally, our community-based programs are offered for free as part of our DOL grant.

What kinds of opportunities can become available to those who earn certifications and learn new skills through these programs?

Students who earn Industry recognized credentials or learn new digital or technical skills will be prepared to work in almost any industry. Right now, students are earning certifications, posting them on their online profiles, and employers are taking notice. 

And it’s not just tech companies. Businesses in every sector are grappling with new technology and how to rapidly adapt to a digital future. More and more companies are looking for ways to hire people who can understand and relate to the people who use their products or services. Combining whatever your academic degree program is in with relevant digital skills will give you a significant competitive edge when applying for internships, co-ops, and full-time jobs. I would encourage all students to explore how emerging and advanced technologies are impacting the industries they are interested in working in.


Featured image at top of Todd Foley: Lisa Ventre/UC Creative + Brand

The birthplace of co-op

The University of Cincinnati has the oldest and one of the largest cooperative education programs in the world, and is regarded as one of the Top 5 universities in the nation for co-ops and internships. 

But we're more than just co-op.

We're building on that foundation to make paid, supervised, major-related work experience and self-reflection integral to the education of every baccalaureate student. At the same time, we prepare students for the world of work with professional development courses, coaching and career services.

Find more UC Answers to your important questions.

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