By Michael Kane, Professional & Business Services sector leader at Belfast City Council
Belfast City Council is leading a pilot as part of L&W’s New Futures programme, testing an alternative employment pathway for people to switch career into the city’s growing technology sector. In December 2022, Michael Kane from Belfast City Council described the approach and outcomes from the first cohort of participants. In this latest blog, he provides an update and introduces two further cohorts of participants who began their journeys in June 2023.
As a quick recap, 11 participants impacted by Covid-19 completed the first academy and nine of these participants successfully switched career into tech, securing immediate employment with starting salaries ranging from £23,000 – £28,500.
Through FIT, our appointed training organisation, we’ve maintained contact with everyone from the first academy. The graduates who started employment remain in their role to this point – a huge credit to them and their employers. We continue to work with those who did not find employment immediately, providing relevant information, advice and guidance to support them towards employment. We’re confident that at least one further job will be confirmed in the next couple of weeks.
I’m also delighted to share that we started two more technology academies in June 2023: one in Product Management, the other in Cyber Security. In some ways, it has felt like starting all over again (because we needed to develop new curricula etc), however the lessons learned from the first cohort were tremendously useful in shaping what works best for the target audience.
Extensive outreach activity, including several in-person information events across Belfast, stakeholder engagement and social media activity led to almost 300 expressions of interest for the places advertised. In addition to the online aptitude assessments and interviews, this time around we also ran a series of group assessments to ascertain levels of communication skills necessary to undertake specific job roles. This proved to be quite a high bar, so feedback provided to applicants focused on the importance of effective communication in the workplace.
There are 23 New Futures participants in these two academies, all looking to switch career into tech. They’ve had varied careers so far including in retail, education, customer service, physiotherapy, and human resources. One participant has been self-employed for several years and wishes to re-enter a team working environment.
Like the first academy, the training will last for 14-16 weeks and each course has been designed in collaboration with tech industry employers. Allstate, for example, were so delighted with the employees they secured from the first academy, that they’re back again seeking additional recruits from the Product Management cohort! Integral to the academies’ success is their unique blend of technical and non-technical learning, with work experience and employability skills.
Given the positive and sustained outcomes generated from the first academy, we have high expectations and hopes for the current cohorts. Participants are receiving holistic wraparound support including financial contributions provided for travel, childcare and subsistence where needed. Early anecdotal feedback from the participants suggests that they’re really enjoying the programme and are engaging fully in all aspects of the learning.
As the first cohort demonstrated, the ultimate prize for tech academy participants is potentially highly lucrative. We therefore want to continue to provide these academies for people to achieve their ambition, which supports the Council’s ambition of helping Belfast residents realise their full potential.