New programs for careers in the digital economy

The University of Alberta is offering three new continuing education programs to meet a fast-growing need for digital job skills, opening the door for people with little or no technological experience to build new careers.

The trio of programs, delivered through the Faculty of Extension beginning in July, will provide the skills needed to fill some of the most in-demand occupations in Alberta and Canada, said Megan Bertagnolli, program development lead for the faculty.

The demand for digitally skilled workers in Alberta is predicted to reach more than 20,000 by 2023, potentially generating up to 200,000 jobs in the province’s digital economy, according to a 2019 economic forecast by the Information and Communication Technology Council of Canada (ICTC).

A fast-growing sector

“Digital skills are the future of work,” said Bertagnolli, adding that careers in the fast-growing sector are more accessible and wide-ranging than people might think. 

“There’s often an assumption that all workers need to know how to write code, but many of the skills that are needed in the workplace are either low-code or codeless. You don’t need to be a programmer or software developer.”

She said there’s a demand for workers who know how to interpret the complex digital world for everyday uses such as translating business needs for online platforms—for example, a website or an app.

“Employers are looking for professionals who know how to navigate the digital landscape,” she said, which means the industry needs analysts, product managers, web designers and people with digital marketing experience to help bridge the gap.

“Most people who manage businesses are not website developers, so being able to make informed decisions comes when you understand the vernacular.”

The new programs—a full-stack web development diploma, a UX/UI design certificate and a digital marketing certificate—can supplement skills for those already working in digital jobs or equip those who are looking for a career pivot.

“(The programs) provide a pathway for people with few digital skills who are looking to a new career or have lost their jobs. They’ll give people the skills they need to become literate and proficient in digital technology,” Bertagnolli said. All three programs are part-time and fully online.

Building skills for in-demand jobs

The two certificate programs offer education in two fast-growing sectors: user experience and interface design (UX/UI) and digital marketing. In its report, ICTC identified the two skills as the third and fourth most in-demand digital jobs in Alberta, respectively.

The UX/UI certificate program teaches skills for good website and app designs that put the user at the centre of the design process. “Different users have different needs. UX/UI thinks about who is your audience and how can, say, a business help that customer move through the online experience so that it feels good,” Bertagnolli explained

That is crucial to success as businesses shift to the digital landscape, she added.

“Consumers now have lots of choices online, so a website has to stand out and be something people have positive experiences with.”

In the same vein, the digital marketing certificate teaches necessary basics like e-commerce, how to effectively market a website, and how to use online promotional tools like search engine optimization, search engine marketing and social media advertising.

The web development diploma program takes learners further into the world of programming, building apps and creating responsive websites.

“As machine learning and AI become increasingly prevalent and the applications of those programs grows, the need for people with the ability to write code is also going to grow,” Bertagnolli noted.

Digital workers looking to upskill quickly to meet the evolving needs of their jobs can take single courses through the programs in areas including analytics, risk management for social media and copyright protection.

Capstone projects in each program will have the students work with communities and organizations to exercise their new skills. 

“They’ll work with real-life projects to get hands-on experience so they have practical skills they can put to use right away,” said Bertagnolli.

The programs help place prospective graduates in a strong position to find jobs, said computer scientist Najia Aftab, one of the instructors and developers of the UX/UI program.

“The digital technology industry has seen a shift … with more online and tech-focused roles like virtual assistants, online content managers, email marketers and interface designers, so I believe our learners will have a substantial chunk of the local and global job market at their disposal

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