Preparing students for the workplace of tomorrow, with the skills employers value now

As part of our annual employability week, Fergus Weir, Managing Director at teclan ltd, one of Scotland’s leading Digital Marketing Agencies, and Nicola Smith, Head of Careers and Employability at the university, share their thoughts on developing skills for a digital future.  

Reflecting on his career journey, Fergus reveals an early fascination of internet technology having witnessed the evolution of the internet from around 1992 and shares his tips on landing a right role.

Photograph of Fergus

My passion for learning and not being afraid to have a go – make mistakes and learn from them – equipped me with the confidence to explore almost all the emerging internet technologies of the time.

Fast forward a number of years and having gained much more knowledge and experience in web technologies and commerce, I still use and need these early learnt skills. As the managing director of a fast-growing business in the digital sector my ethos remains the same, it is important to find solutions to problems by learning from all experiences and to not be afraid to try

Why all graduates should consider pursuing opportunities in the digital sector

A common phrase touted around used to be ‘the future is digital’. Well, the future has arrived. Almost everything is digital. There are very few roles and jobs in today’s economy that do not involve digital skills and technologies in one form or another.

Our culture and societal norms are often embedded in digital medium.

The workplace of tomorrow needs you! Those who can add value, solve a problem, create something new or just improve how a business utilises technology. Equipped with the right skills, confidence, and qualifications you will have a powerful role to play in the way the future economy develops.

The digital sector, its growth, and the opportunities available in our region

Prior to COVID-19 the trend for businesses to expand more into internet technologies as a gateway to market had been steadily increasing. Our experience at teclan showed that businesses in the Highlands were not always at the forefront of that trend.

However, since the pandemic, many businesses across the UK, including the Highlands, have been given a sharp shock, forcing them to implement sometimes missing or old digital strategies to generate new revenue streams and routes to market.

This is resulting in a labour market change with a significant boom in the need for skills that support and assist that transition and expansion into online technologies. The continued increase in internet usage over the last 18 months, across all age groups, has further accelerated opportunities and growth for those businesses adapting to the changes and adopting new digital practices.

Another outcome from the pandemic has been the explosion of flexible working and a wider cultural shift in thinking that people can work for anyone, from anywhere. With the rise of digital agencies and businesses increasingly bringing these skills in-house, it has further increased the need for digital technology literate problem solvers who are competent and enthusiastic people.

The right fit – proactively identifying and pursuing opportunities

Working for money is an awful lot easier if you like what you do AND you work with, and for, the right people. Understanding an organisations core values and speaking with the people who work there can help hugely in determining whether you want to work there or not.

As a business leader, I know that our employees are vital to our success and I enjoy speaking with people that are truly interested about what we do and want to find out about what opportunities, work placements are available, or just want a little advice. 

Pick up the phone. Send an email. Be genuinely curious and interested in a business and its employees and owners, to get to know that business and its people. It’s part of your learning. Ask about opportunities, work placements, or just advice. Business owners will generally happily talk about their business if they feel someone is truly interested.

Working for money is an awful lot easier if you like what you do AND you work with, and for, the right people. Understanding an organisations core values and speaking with the people who work there can help hugely in determining whether you want to work there or not.

As a business leader, I know that our employees are vital to our success and I enjoy speaking with people that are truly interested about what we do and want to find out about what opportunities, work placements are available, or just want a little advice. 

Pick up the phone. Send an email. Be genuinely curious and interested in a business and its employees and owners, to get to know that business and its people. It’s part of your learning. Ask about opportunities, work placements, or just advice. Business owners will generally happily talk about their business if they feel someone is truly interested.

Fergus Weir is speaking on Tuesday 27 April 2021 as part of the University of the Highlands and Islands employability week event series.  

Based in Lochaber, Nicola comes from a long line of small business owners stretching back to her grandparents. She is passionate about helping students to prepare for their future and supporting them into future employment. 

Dial-up phones and no mobiles or emails! The changed working world

Photograph of Nicola

When I first started in the workplace, we used dial-up phones, there were no mobiles, we didn’t have email, and a fax in the workplace was very high tech.

Each new technological advance meant learning new skills, adapting practice and processes, and quite often running to catch up. Between then and now, the world of work has changed dramatically, and it keeps changing as we and the technologies we use to manage our lives grow and evolve.

Will the pandemic make changes to our working lives, and the way in which businesses approach the future?

Change inevitably results in new practices, which means new opportunities, and teclan is a perfect example of how innovative forward-thinking organisation can thrive and grow in a rural environment.  

And for our students and graduates entering the workplace, I firmly believe that the advancement of flexible working accelerated by the deployment of technology during the pandemic will result in new and attractive employment opportunities that can help people to create a healthy work and life balance from the location and community they love, and want to be based in.

What does remain constant is the type of skills and attributes that we develop in our further and higher education courses, and through the support we provide at the University of the Highland and Islands career and employability centre, all designed to ensure students are equipped with the attributes that are valued in the workplace.

Problem-solving, enthusiasm, curiosity, team working, continuous learning, being proactive, showing an interest and grasping opportunities to find solutions are vital now, and for the future workplace. 

Good communication skills are of huge importance, alongside things like self-discipline, self-motivation, and time management; not necessarily ‘learned skills’, but qualities we help our students to understand and apply.

Self-confidence in planning for the future is also key. There is widely held belief that gaining a qualification confers on you a level of instant confidence, the ability to articulate who you are as a person and what you bring to the workplace.  For some this might true, but for many it is simply the first step in working out what comes next, and indeed what the next step after that might look like. 

We all know that planning for the future can be daunting, that the next step is often balanced against other areas of an individual’s life and can and will be subject to change, and that there are a multitude of things we can never plan for. 

Our career and employability team helps students to think things through and take action to change things. Sometimes small steps, sometimes big leaps – all dependent on the individuals own unique path.

Employers will always look for a package of skills which contain these elements.  Indeed, advances in technology and a move to more remote working trends will only enhance the need for these types of attributes now and in the future 

The careers and employability centre

Our students can meet with the career and employability team anytime for a career conversation, personalised CV and application support, interview preparation and job searching. They can also access one to one support, career development workshops/events and a range of current career and employability information.

This comprehensive support doesn’t stop after graduating! Our distinctive ‘Graduate for Life’ offer includes ongoing support whenever required, long after leaving university.

Nicola Smith is Head of Careers and Employability at the University of the Highlands and Islands. To find out more information on careers support or the employability week programme of events from the 26 April to the 30 April visit www.uhi.ac.uk/en/students/careers/current-students/



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