The Department for the Economy has designated Belfast Met as the Further Education sector lead for Digital IT education and training.
Fulfilling this role on behalf of the six FE Colleges is a fantastic accolade for Belfast Met which takes pride in aligning itself to meet industry demand and providing relevant courses to meet the skills needs of learners and companies.
At the helm of Belfast Met’s learning and teaching is Director of Curriculum and Learner Success, Dr Jonathan Heggarty MBE – someone with an IT background which demonstrates the exciting career this sector can offer.
Although successful in industry, Jonathan had the desire to take his experience and learnings into education and impart his knowledge and excitement about technology to others. Jonathan’s story is reflective of most teaching staff at Belfast Met who have that vital industry experience you just can’t find within the pages of a textbook.
Dr Heggarty, who was awarded an MBE in 2018 for his services to Further Education said: “Everyone who works in Further Education does so because they believe in the impact the sector can have on society as we assist learners to develop the skills and knowledge that will take them into further study or into employment. As Director of Curriculum I’m responsible for ensuring that our courses meet the needs of our learners and industry. It is a great privilege to have this role and I work with a very talented and dedicated team of managers, lecturers and support staff
“It’s an honour for Belfast Met to be designated as the Digital IT Curriculum Hub by our parent department, the Department for the Economy. Curriculum hubs in the Further Education sector are the lead college to link to the other five colleges in order to ensure teaching and curriculum excellence, coordinate sector knowledge and employer engagement to provide consistently high-quality provision for learners and employers across Northern Ireland.”
Dr Heggarty went on to explain the benefits of taking on an IT course at Belfast Met and a career in this industry: “There’s been tremendous growth in the IT sector in Northern Ireland and that is set to continue with new companies and jobs being announced all the time. This gives newly qualified learners a brilliant opportunity to land a well-paid and exciting job in a really vibrant sector. There are so many different roles in IT these days and someone entering the field will have a lot of choice. The average salary for an experienced Software Engineer is around £50K which is considerably higher than the average Northern Ireland salary and many IT companies offer a great range of additional benefits.
“Belfast Met has a wide range of IT related programmes at Level 2 (GCSE equivalent) and Level 3 (A level equivalent) as well as, of course, a variety of Higher Education courses. These include full-time and part-time programmes such as Extended Diplomas and Foundation Degrees as well as apprenticeship programmes including Higher Level Apprenticeships.”
Three students who are furthering their careers in IT thanks to Belfast Met shared their stories with Nijobfinder:
Georgia joined ICT company Fujitsu as an Advanced Apprentice in November 2017 while completing a Level 3 Networking Infrastructure course at Belfast Met.
Coming from a background in retail, Georgia didn’t have any previous experience in IT but was quickly recognised by Fujitsu as a determined and creative team member who thrived while learning new skills. Excelling at her studies, Georgia completed a number of additional units including Microsoft Technical Associate in Microsoft 10 and Security Fundamentals.
Speaking about her time as an apprentice, Georgia said: “An apprenticeship was, for me, the perfect route into the sector. As well as ‘earning while learning’, I gained hands-on workplace experience and insight into how businesses work. One of the most rewarding aspects about the apprenticeship programme is seeing how much you can achieve if you apply yourself. It is a challenging programme and it’s important to strike the right balance between college and work responsibilities but once you get that right, you have the best possible platform to further your career.
“Working in such a large business, I also got to learn about charity and community engagement and helped fundraise for Macmillan Cancer Support. Without taking part in the apprenticeship programme, I wouldn’t have made the new friends I did, or gained the business experience and qualifications I now have. Belfast Met and Fujitsu have given me the perfect platform for a career in the industry.”
Erin completed a BA Hons in Fine Art and discovered quite quickly that she really didn’t want to be an artist, a teacher or to stay in an administration role for the rest of her life. She knew she needed to do something more satisfying and thought provoking.
Erin commented: “I had a look online at the Belfast Met courses and noticed the HNC Computing and Systems Development course. I didn’t think I would have the skills or confidence initially, but when I went down to the college for more information I was reassured and decided to apply.”
Erin started the HNC in September 2014 and found that she had no knowledge of some of the topics. However, with the support of her tutors and peers, combined with self-study, she successfully completed her first year and was in a position to apply for her first IT role. After some interviews she was finally successful.
Erin completed her HNC in 2016 with a distinction. “I was over the moon and couldn’t believe I was able to transition from a Fine Art degree into the world of computing,” she said.
“The company I started with was very supportive of my studies and encouraged me to continue. They funded me during my CCNA course (part-time) which I completed successfully at Belfast Met. This was very beneficial in my role as it helped me to gain a better understanding and practical experience working with networks.
“I’ve gained so much valuable knowledge and industry recognised certifications through Belfast Met. I would highly recommend the courses which have given me a strong foundation and level of skill and confidence to succeed in an innovative field and enabled me to further a career in the IT industry.”
Erin has recently been offered a place on the MSc Masters in Data Science course at Ulster University. Her experience studying the topics covered in the HNC course, together with knowledge and competence accrued through employment, has enabled Erin to embrace this new challenge.
Zoe struggled with mental health issues throughout secondary school. When the time came for her to get a job, she found herself working in call centres which she had little enthusiasm for. She then fell pregnant with her daughter when she was 19. Zoe felt she was treated differently by doctors and healthcare professionals and was close to caving under the pressure from family to be a “mum” before anything else.
Zoe said: “When you are a parent there’s an assumption that that’s what you will do for the rest of your life, which made my already difficult post-partum depression even harder. After returning to work following maternity leave, I knew I had to do something different with my life. I looked online and ended up applying to do a foundation degree in Software Engineering at Belfast Met as it was the only thing that I had the relevant qualifications to apply for and which could lead to a future career.”
When Zoe started her first day of Java, anxiety hit, and she suddenly regretted the decision to go down this path. But she had already quit her comfortable job and would probably have had to pay fees for the first semester regardless. She made the decision to give the course her best shot. She started attending tech events which lead to her meeting people and having the chance to volunteer for different things.
Zoe continued: “I started to gain a reputation for being reliable and people began to ask me to help them organise and run tech events. In the last year I’ve become a co-organiser of Code Co-op, the Outreach Manager at Farset Labs, champion of a Coder Dojo, co-organiser of NI Developer Conference and started a family friendly tech social called Belfast Tech Families. I also help to organise BelFOSS and Women Tech Space.”
Zoe has had an article published with Sync NI which gives advice to meetup organisers who want to try and make their events more family inclusive. She has hosted and organised a woman in tech social, a kids event for Design Week and a Halloween themed cyber security challenge. Zoe was also nominated and shortlisted for the WeAreTech-Women top 200 award in 2018, as well as three different categories in the local Women Who Code ‘She Rocks’ Awards. She has also spoken at multiple tech events including NI Developer Conference, Women Tech Makers, BelfastJS, Belfast Linux User Group, Women Who Code to name a few.
Zoe’s enthusiasm for coding and learning, and her passion to improve and help other people, has led to her securing her first job as a Software Developer at Flax & Teal.
Zoe said: “Now I get paid to help make open source code based on research and design projects. I absolutely love my job, which is something I never thought I would hear myself say. I wasn’t expecting to find something I loved and that drives me to be a better version of myself every day.
“I’ve had so many amazing opportunities because I work tirelessly, not just for myself, but for everyone that is affected by what I do. Mostly for my daughter though, because I want to be able to give her a good life and to prove that you can have a career that you live for.”