Dave Webb's story – Bath Spa University

As a Digital Marketing Bootcamp Lecturer, Dave shares his skills with those looking to upskill and change careers. He draws upon experience from his recent career change.

Dave has many connections to Bath Spa University. He’s an alumni, lecturer, Studio resident and has been a Creative Mentor to Bath Spa students at EMERGE. As a creative technologist, Dave bridges the gap between ideas and technology.

“I act as a broker between the world of technology, which can be quite specialised, and people who want to make an impact in the world. Whether that's through a social project, performance or fine arts, they understand the world is changing and becoming more digital and I can help with innovative solutions that are technology-based."

Changing career

I was very much a mature student when I chose to do my Master’s in Creative Computing at Bath Spa. I had a career in corporate IT and for all sorts of reasons, I was looking for a change. I started making that change on my own but doing a Master's helped in a couple of ways. The main one was that it gave me a real focus for a year by studying full time and it also validated my choice of a career change. Alongside the academic and technical content from the course, it was really helpful to be immersed in an environment with like-minded people.

Transitioning out of my Master’s

Becoming part of The Studio

I was part of the inaugural intake of The Studio which is Bath Spa’s enterprise and innovation hub. I found that The Studio is as much a spiritual studio as it is a physical space. You become part of a community of people with sometimes overlapping and sometimes massively diverse interests, skills and disciplines. By being part of the Bath Spa community and The Studio, I've gained freelance work and helped other people with their projects. I'm asked to get involved, or I hear about things, because of the people I've met.

There’s also lots of business-focused support. We have talks from people with experience in areas such as IP law or accounting, the less glamorous side of running a business or a freelance enterprise, that you need to know but don't know where to start. We also have business surgeries so you can book a half hour slot with a specialist whose area you need support with.

The Local Authorities and Chambers of Commerce use The Studio as a way to reach businesses as well. It acts as a hub between people who've got services that are free or heavily subsidised for new businesses, and people like me who perhaps would struggle to try to find them on our own.

Pitching for funding

While I was a Studio resident, and still doing my Master's, I applied for funding through the Southwest Creative Technology Network (SWCTN). It was a joint bid and we got a prototype fund which was quite a substantial pot of money. You're expected to be businesslike about it - it's not just tinkering with an idea. It was such a nice way to come out of the Master’s having that occupying a lot of my time.

Our idea is around sustainable buying choices. We want to create a tool showing the true and hidden costs of materials, manufacture, usage, and end of life costs, to make more fully informed choices possible for consumers. At the time we decided it wasn’t ready to turn into a business but we’ve recently revisited the idea. Watch this space!

Being a resident at The Studio and being around people who knew about funding and the kinds of things that funders were after helped tremendously. I used one of the big walls, covered it with rolls of paper and just scribbled all over it. Trying to work out how to do the pitch and having the space to do that, but also being able to draw on the wisdom from people at The Studio who knew how to make the best of this opportunity was really, really great.

Sharing my skills

I also got offered some teaching work at Bath Spa in the Business School teaching digital skills to marketing students. It was really nice to have a link back to the academic side of the university. It felt like the planets were lining up. I was able to take some of the things I learnt over recent years and then share those with students who are at the start of their careers. I was kind of thrown in the deep end, but it was one of those things that felt right and it got me thinking that perhaps I should have been doing this before.

"I wouldn't have had the confidence to even apply for funding if I hadn't had the experience of being at The Studio."

Developing our Skills Bootcamps

I got invited to teach on the Skills Bootcamp in Digital Marketing because of my teaching within the Business School. A lot of what I taught was really relevant, but I also knew my limitations. So I partnered up with Amy, a freelance content marketer and social media marketer, who I met through The Studio. We built a double act, where I would teach foundational business and digital skills, and Amy would teach more specific content, email and social media marketing, and that's worked really well.

This format of learning for adult learners feels like something the world needs. We’ve seen the need for people to reskill and it’s great to have something in place to support that.

We're seeing a lot of people who've done amazingly well in an earlier career, maybe hit their 40s or 50s, been faced with redundancy, furlough or run out of road on those careers. It's crushing, I've been through it myself and it’s so easy to lose your confidence. As well as technical skills, the Skills Bootcamps offer a lot of employability support like mock interviews and application help. It’s great to see that self-belief come back to the students.

Focus on employability

We’ve worked closely with our partners to make sure the Skills Bootcamps are giving people the skills that employers really need. There’s the core theme of employability running throughout the programme with participants taking part in hands-on real-world projects, and our Employability Coach is on hand to support as well.

Our aim is for people to walk taller into an interview and give a better account of themselves. We’re giving them that confidence boost to get them back in the world work - either to generate jobs for people who didn't have them, or better paying jobs for those that did. Although the first cohort of students have just finished, we're seeing some good results already. We've got lots of people to interview. Lots of better experiences of interviews and lots of people getting follow up interviews.

Continued support for participants

After the 12 week Skills Bootcamp, there's ongoing support. If somebody wants to do a mock interview, speculative job hunting or would like a mentor, then they can get help with that. There's a whole suite of support, it's not just sitting in a room with me banging on about Search Engine Optimization.

A lot of the value comes from introducing students to real-world employers. One of the partners for the Skills Bootcamp in Digital Marketing is Tech Spark. They’re a networking organisation for tech businesses in Bath and Bristol. Their network of businesses is one of the routes to employment for our participants.

I was recently at a Meet the Marketer event. There was a panel discussion that I hosted with three impressive marketers, and then we had a room full of professional marketers and our Digital Marketing participants. Seeing the confidence in some of the people and hearing their stories about what they got out of the Skills Bootcamp was really encouraging, and they’ll be invited back to those events for as long as they want.

The importance of digital skills

Automation is hitting a lot of industries. I don’t feel great about it but it’s a reality. As a technologist, I do get excited about automation but one of the reasons I love teaching the Skills Bootcamps is because it’s about reskilling and upskilling people at all stages of their career, for the kinds of things that the world will need when many jobs have been automated.

Retail is one of those industries that is changing a lot. There's a bunch of very bright people with really great transferable skills in customer service that could be used in the marketing world. If we can empower those people with marketing skills, their understanding of people is suddenly completely reframed, and they're now highly employable again.

“Skills Bootcamps seem to be quite a new thing, and if somebody else is going to pay for you to get some training, whether that’s in a virtual or real-life room, with another cohort of people at a similar place in their life as you, why wouldn’t you?”

Top tips for career changers

Skills Bootcamps are great because you’re given technical skills, networking opportunities and employability skills all free of charge, but if you can’t commit to the hours then my top tip is to find networking events near you on Meetup or Eventbrite.

Some people like to go with a pal then you've got a safe place to scurry back to if you find it too uncomfortable. You find everyone at these types of events are really friendly and love a newbie. They’ll take you under their wing and introduce you to some people. Most of the time, especially in Bristol, you can find a tech event every night of the week with the added bonus of free beer and pizza.

The penny drops when you go to events like this for any industry, that for most people they find their career by some really weird route. They got made redundant from their first postgraduate career, ended up taking any job they could, then a mate of a mate said I need some help with this. Next thing, you know, they're a Marketer. Once you realise that, it can take away the feeling that you need to achieve something before you can start something that's new.

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