New partnership set to build digital community skills

April 23, 2020

With the number of digitally engaged people across the world playing video games now estimated in the billions, games developer and publisher Ubisoft and the University of Sunderland have announced that they are collaborating on a new joint initiative to create a new foundation degree-equivalent qualification to recognise the skills involved in managing and supporting these vast diverse online communities. Supported by the Institute of Apprenticeships and the NextGen Skills Academy, the Level 4 digital community management programme is the first of its kind in the UK, and is set to launch from September 2020

The global digital population is growing at an unprecedented rate, with as many as 4.54 billion active internet users surfing the web on a regular basis. That’s the majority of the people on this planet all searching on Google, scrolling on Facebook and streaming on Netflix.

When we think about which digital skills are going to be needed in this hyper-connected future, what springs to mind are things like programming, data science, software development, among others. These skills do, of course, have a crucial role to play, particularly in building the infrastructure for the platforms and pages we’ll be spending our time on. But with so many of us occupying the digital space, the need for community management, monitoring, safeguarding and engagement skills is also greater than ever.

For any business with an active community of online users, whether it’s on Facebook or Fortnite, there’s a responsibility to ensure that the community is a healthy and happy place to be. Ubisoft is one such business, with huge digital communities clustered around its games.

Newzoo estimates that there are now more than 2.5 billion gamers across the world. That means vast numbers of people could be playing Ubisoftdeveloped Assassin’s Creed or Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6 Siege at any one time. It’s the job of Ubisoft’s EMEA Consumer Relationship Centre, based in Newcastle, to enhance players’ experience and support its playing communities in 21 languages.

With such an important job to do, Ubisoft spends a lot of time training its staff, but until now there has been no qualification or formal process to recognise these vital skills.

With the support of the Institute of Apprenticeships and NextGen Skills Academy, Ubisoft has collaborated with the University of Sunderland to create a Level 4 undergraduate degree apprenticeship in digital community management to give the company’s community managers the formal recognition they deserve.

Giselle Stewart, director of UK Corporate Affairs at Ubisoft, comments: “We do a lot of bespoke training and we spend a lot of time inducting people and training them appropriately. It recently occurred to us that this was what apprenticeships were all about.

“It’s probably taken us about two and a half years to develop the apprenticeship and we wanted it to be of high value to our employees; something they’d be proud to put on their CVs, so we pitched it as a Level 4 qualification.

“The computer science department at the University of Sunderland stepped forward and said they’d be really interested in helping deliver the apprenticeship.”

Professor Alastair Irons, academic dean for the Faculty of Technology at the University of Sunderland, adds: “The University of Sunderland is delighted to be working with Ubisoft and NextGen on this exciting new initiative. The collaboration has been a fascinating one and we look forward to working together to make the project a success.”

With plans for the first cohort to start this September, Ubisoft will use the programme to formalise how its employees interact with players in the digital space. But with digital communities coalescing around many different types of organisations its applications are much broader.

That’s why Ubisoft is working with Dynamo to encourage more companies to take up the digital community management apprenticeship. “We’re putting this apprenticeship out to the North East now,” adds Giselle.

“We’re using the digital entertainment and service delivery centre clusters at Dynamo to say to other companies, ‘if any of you have digital communities that you manage, this could be of interest to you’.”

Sarah Hinchcliffe-Smith, HR director at Ubisoft’s EMEA Customer Relationship Centre, is hoping that other organisations will see its value and offer the apprenticeship to their employees.

She says: “The intention with the apprenticeship is that it can be used by other organisations and tailored per employer. Certainly, we see there would be a requirement for other gaming companies, or anyone else who has digital community managers. These are roles that are becoming more commonplace, particularly in tech companies.”

This degree apprenticeship is one example of how North East businesses and universities are coming together to equip the future workforce with the skills needed to service the growing tech industry.

With the global digital population exploding in numbers, a formal process for the training and accreditation of digital community managers is going to be crucial. Thanks to Ubisoft, Institute of Apprenticeships, University of Sunderland and NextGen Skills, there’s now a readymade scheme in place.

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