A pioneering Government scheme to boost digital skills has been launched in Lancashire.
The UK’s first Digital Skills Partnership is being piloted by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in the county, in partnership with the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP’s) Skills and Employment Hub.
The innovative approach will help identify gaps in digital skills provision in Lancashire, encourage partners to work strategically together to address them and attract investment from outside bodies. The aim is to have greater impact and be more effective and sustainable over the long term.
Google, TSB and Lloyds have all agreed to give more support to digital skills training in Lancashire through the partnership. Google has committed to working with local partners to train 1,000 people and businesses through its Google Digital Garage programme.
Improving skill levels in this key sector of the economy will help support the LEP’s strategic aim to boost countywide job creation and fuel economic growth.
The ground-breaking new initiative was announced at The Lancashire Digital Skills Summit, an event focusing on tech skills in Preston, at which some of Lancashire’s most high-profile businesses, charities and public bodies signed up to the partnership.
The summit, held at the headquarters of e-commerce firm EKM, showcased the work under way to improve digital skills and discussed what further steps were needed.
A total of 43 key local partners signed up to the partnership on the day. These included local digital businesses, the three universities, colleges, schools, Digital Lancashire and Lancashire County Council.
Richard Keelty, Head of Google Digital Garage, commented: “We’ve seen first-hand the value the Digital Skills Partnership can bring at a national level, so we’re excited to be a part of the UK’s first local digital skills partnership.
“Working with our local partners and the Lancashire Digital Skills Partnership, the Google Digital Garage will provide free training to help people and businesses across Lancashire harness the power of the web to grow their skills, careers, and businesses. We encourage everyone, whatever your level of experience, to make the most of the free digital coaching on offer.”
Phil Smith, Chair of Innovate UK and The Tech Partnership, said: “As Chair of Innovate UK, and Tech Partnership, I am acutely aware of the importance of digital skills for a dynamic and productive economy.
“The Digital Skills Partnership will support local partnerships, like Lancashire, to coordinate and develop innovative programmes, and will help promote collaboration between local and national organisations, so that programmes are delivered in areas where they will have the greatest impact.
“Lancashire is well placed to be at the vanguard of this programme. I look forward to seeing how the partnership progresses and how it takes forward and shapes this truly important agenda.”
LEP director Mike Blackburn OBE, said: “In the last few years we have invested millions in the learning infrastructure through Growth Deal funds and vocational training through European Social Funds and also other initiatives, so we are delighted to have established the first Local Digital Skills Partnership in the country.
“Digital industries are clearly set to be a key sector for driving economic growth and creating new jobs in Lancashire, and this is another example of the LEP’s commitment to improving skills in order to unlock opportunities and realise the county’s commercial potential in this area.”
Director of the Lancashire Skills and Employment Hub, Dr Michele Lawty-Jones, said: “We have worked with local partners to identify skills and employment opportunities across Lancashire and digital has been identified as a priority sector.
“We are now working across the county to create a pipeline of new talent, support businesses, and establish an inclusive approach to workforce development. This collaboration between local and national partners means we can do so much more to inspire our next generation and address the current digital skills gap.”
The creative economy in Lancashire – which is dominated by digital, creative, software and computer science businesses – employees 36,000 people and is worth £1.3bn in GVA.
Yet 57 per cent of fast-growing businesses in a survey said they struggled to find technically capable staff with advanced IT or software skills. Provision of computer sciences at higher-education level also lags behind the national average.
In recent years, the LEP has invested heavily in improving skills in the digital and creative sector, through initiatives such as:
• helping fund Edge Hill University’s new Technology Hub, which includes the UK’s first super immersive 3D virtual environment in a university
• investing in the Microsoft Digital Academy at Accrington and Rossendale College
• offering over 200 young people at Lancashire colleges hands-on digital skills training through the Digital Advantage project, which is now in its second year.
To find out more, search for #LancsDigiSummit on Twitter.