In response to COVID-19, many organizations have had to pivot their businesses to an online model. But the technical and digital skills needed to do this work can be hard to find. The University of Waterloo has partnered with industry experts to fill this gap by equipping students with the digital skills employers are looking for to help transform businesses and workplaces.

“In particular, small and medium sized businesses may need to develop or enhance their ability to generate revenue online,” says Norah McRae, associate provost of co-operative and experiential education at Waterloo. “Digital skills equip our students to provide assistance to business interested in developing an online presence.”

The new Digital Skills Fundamental courses introduce students to digital marketing, web design, video marketing, problem solving and sales. These five, non-credit courses are free to all Waterloo students to enrol and round out the workplace skills they are already developing in the classroom and through Waterloo’s extensive co-op program.

“Each course tackles a key component of developing a business presence online,” McRae says. “Essentially, the students can help a business set up an online presence, generate demand for the goods and services and then convert that demand to revenue.”

These courses were developed in consultation with Canadian industry partners who excel in the digital marketing and sales space, including Vidyard and Kiite, as well as campus partners, the Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business and The Problem Lab.

“We fundamentally believe that there is a gap in technology sales education,” says Joseph Fung (BASc ’07), CEO of Kiite and Uvaro. “Strong sales fundamentals are key to a successful career and providing a positive buying experience, and we’re thrilled to partner with the University of Waterloo to deliver Introduction to Sales Skills. We’d love to see more students deliberately pursue sales as their chosen career, and we’re confident that early sales-focused education can create a clear path forward for those students.”

The courses were created to help Waterloo students support Canadian businesses during this time of upheaval and the response has exceed expectations. McRae says, “We first launched the program to unemployed co-op students. Within the first two hours, we had 40 students enrol and now two weeks later, we have more than 500 students.”

Vidyard’s CEO and co-founder, Michael Litt (BASc ’11), wanted to partner with Waterloo to offer these courses as a practical way to help prepare students for the future of work. “A strong educational foundation teaches you how to learn and problem solve, but the academic process is often missing relevant and up-to-date tactics to provide a competitive and differentiated edge in the current and future job market,” Litt says. “This program will effectively supplement the efforts of one of the best academic institutions on the globe and continue to strengthen the University of Waterloo’s reputation for creating incredibly talented and capable graduate.”

Hire a digital savvy student

Many Waterloo co-op students have already enrolled or completed the courses, and are ready to support Canadian businesses. Any organization hiring a Waterloo student can also request their student employee enrol in these digital courses for free as part of their onboarding process.

Businesses can also consider hiring a team of students to help their organization go digital. When Waterloo announced it was suspending on-campus activities in response to COVID-19, the University quickly hired 320 co-op students to help transition to the delivery of online courses. Other organizations, like the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, have since followed suit. By hiring a team of students to make the transition, organizations will have the support they need to adapt to the current environment.