SignedUp Skills: Interview with Jane Dellar
SignedUp Skills appears, at its simplest level, to be another skills website. But behind the scenes, there is some very sophisticated software that delivers a lot of additional value to local regions.
Launched as a product in 2019, the last few years have seen it grow into a service available in ten regions throughout the UK. Here we talk to Jane Dellar, our UK Regional Projects Account Manager who looks after all our SignedUp Skills clients, and she explains how it all came about and the reasons for its ongoing success.
Long ago, an idea was born
It all started some fifteen years ago when the Isle of Man Government looked for a digital solution to help attract more graduates back to the Isle of Man following their studies. Employers could use it to post their vacancies. Young people could use it to keep records of their achievements, create and maintain their CVs, apply for jobs and connect with employers.
When the funding ran out, PDMS decided to continue offering the valuable service for the Island at its own cost. We invested further development to evolve into employed.im (later to become SignedUp v1) which providing information about working on the Island in addition to career opportunities and job vacancies for all the Island’s residents.
With the flexibility of the software, it then went on to be used to manage the mandated work experience programme for all the Island’s schools.
As the first of its kind, employed.im became a one-stop-shop for job seekers, which was quite revolutionary back then!
What is SignedUp Skills?
Born from all the learning from employed.im, the best analogy I can think of is that SignedUp Skills is to skills and employment as Amazon is to retail.
There is such an overwhelming amount of information online, and essentially SignedUp Skills works to filter out all the noise. We harness the power of the latest technology and data to gather thousands of reliable and relevant economic opportunities and make them easy to search, save and interact with.
The fundamental philosophy behind SignedUp Skills is to put the person at the centre, so instead of having to trawl through multiple different websites with different logins and different data presentations, it acts as the front door to all the live jobs, apprenticeships and training opportunities available locally.
For job seekers and career explorers, it makes their job opportunities easier to access. Along with local labour market information where they can find out about all the different industries and careers available near where they live, its purpose is to help them make informed career decisions.
For our clients, SignedUp Skills is a very cost-effective technology platform that enables economic regions to empower their residents with an improved understanding of the local labour market. It enables our customers to display the relevant economic opportunities in the context of their employment and skills priorities.
Why is there a regional focus?
First and foremost, we’ve made our portals regional to make sure that the opportunities, information and help are relevant. If you live in a city compared to a rural community, the types of industries operating there can be very different, thereby opening very different career opportunities for a person. A career in port logistics is not very relevant to someone like me who is landlocked deep in the Bedfordshire countryside.
It enables economic communities to showcase their best - be it agri-tech, film and media, life sciences or digital AI - by improving the accessibility of local opportunities and displaying them in a local context, we increase the chances that people will find the opportunities and information they need to thrive.
How is it different from other skills and career platforms ?
We haven’t come across anything that is really comparable. Probably the biggest difference is that, in line with our ‘person at the centre’ philosophy, users can create an account and with that single sign-on, access all the SignedUp portals. So, for instance, if you live on the Essex/Herts border, you can manage all of your opportunities from Essex Opportunities and HOP from your single SignedUp account.
Who have you worked with so far?
Since its launch, I'm proud that SignedUp Skill has extended its reach to help 12 million people across England. Our client portals are:
- Berkshire Opportunities
- Hertfordshire Opportunity Portal
- Future Goals (covering West Yorkshire)
- Cheshire & Warrington Opportunities
- Nottinghamshire Opportunities
- Essex Opportunities
- Staffordshire Jobs & Careers
- Growth Work with Skills (covering Greater Cambridgeshire & Peterborough)
- Worcestershire Jobs
- Thurrock Opportunities
How do you address accessibility issues?
In accordance with the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations, SignedUp Skills has been developed in line with, and maintains, level AA of the WCAG 2.1 criteria.
All the sites include accessibility features, such as a colour contrast calculation within the site stylesheets which creates accessible background and foreground combinations while staying true to brand colours. The content management system is configured to ensure alternative text is mandatory for content-managed images.
SignedUpSkills is tested both during development using in-browser tools such as Axe and SiteImprove and on an ongoing basis. We have also carried out testing by ‘experts by experience’ with a range of disabilities. The accessibility issue we can’t address is the unfortunate situation where many areas, particularly rurally, have very poor mobile signals or broadband.
How much flexibility is there to adapt the platform to tailor it to local initiatives?
Because SignedUp Skills comprises a set of independent but interoperating microservices which collectively deliver the functionality, the architectural pattern provides greater flexibility enabling regions to make it their own without having to build a bespoke solution for each initiative.
Each service can be scaled up individually and can follow its own development path, independent of the other services (providing public interfaces remain unchanged).
This flexibility enabled Essex County Council, as part of a wider Community Renewal Fund project, to have a Find Funding tool developed, to help Essex residents find out what funding might be available to them to help reduce financial barriers to learning. As this tool was built in the SignedUp Skills Platform, it automatically became available to other clients to implement in their regional solution service.
In January 2021, the DWP announced a funding boost for ten Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to develop and trial locally led digital Mid-Life MOTs. The trials were designed to help those most at risk of experiencing long-term unemployment and to encourage Small and Medium Enterprises to explore how modest changes could improve retention, succession planning and support a more motivated workforce.
We worked with four LEPs to enhance their existing SignedUp Skills portals and create a dedicated Mid-Life MOT hub that would joinjoined up local provision, communicate key messages clearly and reach the target audiences. You can read all about the success of the Humber LEP (now HEY LEP) here.
New initiatives are being introduced all the time that can be digitally implemented quickly in SignedUp Skills and help deliver local outcomes from national programmes. The latest being the new, government-funded Multiply programme. We are currently working with a County Council to create a county-wide hub so local residents, who are aged 19 and over and don’t have maths GCSE at grade C (or equivalent), can access free numeracy courses to help them get a job, get on in their career, save and budget better or help the kids with their homework.
That's all folks
So there you have it, an insight into how the SignedUp platform works for the organisation, and the individual, and why it’s been so successful.
Essentially it is an integrated self-service product, designed for people to source local job vacancies, apprenticeships, training, internships and mentoring. In other words, a portal that will guide them and provide all the help they need with their careers.