RED Academy evolves and expands along with the technology industry it serves

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      The growth of B.C.’s tech economy has been astonishing. According to the Vancouver Economic Commission, there are now 75,000 people working in this industry in Vancouver and 101,000 across the province.

      This tech sector generates a whopping $23 billion in revenue in B.C., and Vancouver is home to three of Canada’s four tech unicorns worth more than $1 billion: Slack, Hootsuite, and Avigilon.

      This has created an almost insatiable need for skilled workers, which is something that RED Academy founders Colin Mansell and Mandy Gilbert anticipated when they founded their West Broadway school in 2015.

      Now with campuses in Toronto and London, England, RED Academy appears to be expanding much in the same way as the industry it serves. Last month, the campus in London welcomed its first intake of students.

      “We’re at the point where technology is exponentially accelerating,” RED Academy managing director Sean Eikerman told the Georgia Straight by phone. “As technology advances, it’s going to be even more important to be digitally literate.”

      He said he can foresee a time when RED—it stands for “real education and development”—will no longer teach HTML and CSS, which has been a basic building block of website development. According to Eikerman, the current preference is JavaScript, and who knows what is on the horizon when artificial intelligence starts wiping out conventional job categories?

      “A huge part of our curriculum is communicating that there are the fundamental things that will never change about technology,” he explained. “And it’s less about understanding frameworks and more about understanding how they work and the concepts behind them. It’s like, ‘Okay, here are the frameworks that are going to get your foot in the door in the job market tomorrow. Then here is the rationale behind frameworks that will equip you to learn any framework—and most of this you’re going to learn on the job.’ ”

      RED Academy has made its mark through training in web and app development, digital marketing (Mansell formerly headed up Drive Digital), and UX and UI design. It has carved out a middle ground between short-term boot camps and the one- to four-year programs offered by public postsecondary institutions.

      Eikerman pointed out that at RED, instructors want to give students enough depth to find employment—but not over such a lengthy period of time that by the time these students go to work, everything has changed.

      Students are assigned to do projects—such as creating websites or devising digital-marketing campaigns—for nonprofit organizations and high-tech startups. This part of the curriculum helps build capacity in the community while students learn how to engage with clients. Eikerman calls this a win-win situation.

      “RED Academy is more than just a school,” he said. “It’s an ecosystem of technology and thinking. The community is just as much of a teacher as our teachers are in the classroom and our clients are when they get students to work on a project.”

      He added that this is reflected in how alumni repeatedly return to RED Academy to mentor students and to continually learn new concepts.

      “We have staff that started companies that are in touch with corporate entities that are trying to innovate in different spaces,” Eikerman noted. “We have career coaches that come in to support the students and try to frame their value to their own companies. It’s trying to strike that 21st-century sweet spot. That’s what it comes down to.”

      Recently, a new concept was launched called RED Training. It offers educational services to organizations that want to enhance their staff's digital literacy.

      "It basically allows employees to self-select what kind of workshops they want to take in order to learn certain skills," Eikerman explained.

      RED's business development manager, Matt Bonshor, added that it's ideal for people who are already in a professional setting but who want to "skill up in all the fields" covered by the academy.

      Bonshor said RED Training will enable them to tap into a network of people on the cutting edge of such fields as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and blockchain. The latter is a digital ledger in which cryptocurrency transactions can be recorded in a verifiable and permanent way.

      Workshops will last six hours, either in two sessions during the week or at one longer event held on a Saturday.

      "You walk away with a hard skill that you can take back to your business and use to work through a business challenge," Bonshor stated.