The Digital Skills Academy has launched what it describes as the world's first online degree in integrated digital technology, business and design, which it says can boost the skills required by global technology companies and industries such as banking, aviation and retail.

The International BSc (Honours) in Digital Technology, Design and Innovation commences in October 2015 and already has confirmed international participants from North and Latin America, Africa, the UK and Ireland.

While similar on-campus degrees already exist, such as those run by Los Angeles-based USC Jimmy Lovine and Andrew Young Academy for the Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation, the new academy-run offering says it is the first to employ online e-learning delivery.

In news that may be of particular interest to retailers struggling with tech-related skills gaps in their businesses, the aim of the course is to combine digital business acumen with digital technology expertise.

Josh Abbott, permanent team lead for retail IT at ReThink Recruitment, welcomed news of the course launch, suggesting "the need for multichannel expertise within the IT space is only going to continue to rise". He suggested retailers could see real value by closely aligning themselves with the programme.

"I think retailers will truly see the benefit when they help mould the education programmes themselves," he told Essential Retail.

"Having engagement from the businesses that are likely to gain from it will be the essential point. When it comes to hiring skilled permanent IT staff there is a real war for talent and having the ability and procedures in place to grow your own talent is essential to forward planning and maintaining a strong workforce."

The one year, part-time and online course is accredited by Dublin Institute of Technology and facilitates work in international teams on real world projects via virtual platforms.  There will be a focus on multidisciplinary teaching by respected industry leaders, and the degree programme is aimed at corporates who want to up-skill staff, people looking to switch jobs to the digital technology sector and graduates who are looking to improve their career prospects.

Existing partners of the Digital Skills Academy range from start-ups and small to medium-sized enterprises to global corporations like Allianz, Oracle, Ernst & Young, Telefonica and BT.

Paul Dunne, CEO and founder of the Digital Skills Academy, commented: "By employing the latest developments in online learning and online team working technologies, our degrees are offered across the world, opening up a unique opportunity for the exchange of ideas on a global scale."

Representatives from a number of the UK's largest retailers, including John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Ocado, are among the businesses to acknowledge the challenges faced by the wider industry in recruiting staff with the digital skills suitable for modern, tech-led retailing.

However, there are examples of retailers making moves to address the issue.

Online-only grocer Ocado announced in February that over 14,000 schools, pupils, teachers and parents are now learning to code with Rapid Router, a free primary coding resource developed by its technology arm and specialist ICT teachers. 

From earlier this year, upper key stage 2 pupils have also been able to utilise the platform to learn Python programming language, which gives users the skills to create a variety of applications including games and websites. It can also be used for data analysis and scientific computing, as well as programming embedded devices such as Raspberry PI.

Ocado sees the development of these skills as a crucial investment for the future of business, but ReThink Recruitment's Abbott said there is already a "major demand" among his retailer clients for tech expertise in the project delivery space.

"There are a lack of business analysts and project managers who are looking for permanent roles and come with strong retail experience/expertise," he explained.

"There is also a major skill gap in technical candidates such as development/java/.net/php) who have eCommerce experience. Both the markets mentioned are very contract-led and the demand puts a huge strain on operational expenditure budgets within the IT space which has to turn to contract/consultancy resource to fill a need."

Since launching in 2008 the Digital Skills Academy has produced over 2,000 graduates that have gone on to work for the likes of Google, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Vodafone, SAP and Heineken. Via its new programme, which kicks off later this year, the academy will be looking to educate the next generation of employees who will ultimately find themselves operating in an increasingly digital workplace.

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Digital Skills Academy

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