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Remote learning specialist Firefly plans 52 new jobs in Belfast

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Simon Hay of Firefly

Simon Hay of Firefly

When Firefly returns to office working, it will be based at offices in River House on High Street in Belfast

When Firefly returns to office working, it will be based at offices in River House on High Street in Belfast

Simon Hay of Firefly

Belfast was chosen out of seven cities around the UK and Ireland for 52 new jobs paying an average of £44,000 with online education firm Firefly Learning, it has emerged.

But the world it operates in has been transformed since the company started talks with economic development agency Invest NI to open up in Northern Ireland.

Firefly's new staff will all be working from home, along with their 75 colleagues in the company's main hubs of London and Sydney, as well as premises in Dubai and Berlin.

Simon Hay, who co-founded the firm with Joe Matheson when they were GCSE students, announced the investment in Belfast.

He said demand for its remote learning platform had exploded with the advent of homeschooling following lockdown.

The company has seen 13 times its normal levels of usage with more queries in a week than in a month before lockdown.

"We're gluttons for punishment and wanted to do whatever we could to mitigate the impact so we said we would give our platform away for free to any school which can benefit from it," Mr Hay said.

He explained lockdown had accelerated culture change in schools by "decades".

"They are naturally cautious institutions. It doesn't translate into cash for us today but we do see it as coming of age for remote education in the next couple of years," he said.

"We'd like to be at the heart of that and Belfast to be at the heart of that for us."

Welcoming the investment, Economy Minister Diane Dodds said: "School closures have meant many education establishments have had to look to new ways to help teachers and parents home school children.

"Firefly's online learning platform was already in use by many Great Britain-based schools, but has seen a marked increase in use during the recent months of lockdown.

"Invest NI has been working with the company over recent months to progress Firefly's plans to set up a 52 person team in Belfast.

"The company is still committed to this investment, with nine roles already in place and staff working from home.

"The company is offering very attractive salaries and will contribute additional salaries of more than £2.3m per annum into the economy when all jobs are in place."

Invest NI has offered £520,000 of support. The company has already filled nine of the roles but is still looking for developers, UX researchers, designers, and back end and mobile app developers with experience in technologies such as Microsoft, JavaScript, iOS and Android.

Mr Hay said: "Obviously these new members of our team will be working from home, but we have everything in place to remotely welcome them and help them settle into our team."

When the company does return to office working, it will be based at offices in River House on High Street in Belfast, run by shared workspace specialist Clockwise.

Mr Hay said the company had sized up seven cities in the Republic, Scotland and Wales against 10 criteria when choosing where to base the new jobs.

"We were primarily focused on the right talent pool and in Belfast found loads of people with skills we wanted, though they're not necessarily in start-ups but in big corporates," he said. "But I think we are a bit more differentiated and think we'll be able to attract and retain great team members for the long-term.

"We think somewhere like Belfast has lower living costs but a higher quality of life, and it's an attractive destination in its own right as well."

And the company was a labour of love, he admitted.

"I'm 34 and this company has been part of my life for longer than it hasn't been," Mr Hay said.

"For a long time in our early days it was a hobby or sideline, through school, university and a Phd. We worked as traders and were ducking off the trading floor to take calls from schools. By the time we quit our jobs, we knew we were onto something."

And he said that lockdown had accelerated the pace of change in how firms work.

"River House have been really helpful and supportive. But across all our sites, we're spending a fortune on space that we're not able to use at the moment," he added.

In the future the firm might refit spaces to include more 'creative' breakout areas. And overall, people were likely to be given the option of when to come in.

Mr Hay said: "Come in as a team when they're in a project which really benefits from being able to stand around the same whiteboard. Go in when it suits you but not otherwise.

"That's the way we'll end up, though we were heading in that direction before lockdown."

Belfast Telegraph