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New report highlights impact of digital exclusion on access to education and employment in the North East

A new report published by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP) has highlighted the impact digital exclusion in the North East LEP area is having on people’s ability to access education, skills and employment.

Commissioned by the North East LEP’s Skills Advisory Panel (SAP), ‘Digital Exclusion in the North East LEP Area’ looks specifically at the economic and skills-related impacts of digital exclusion in County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

Published alongside IPPR North’s ‘Addressing digital exclusion in North East England’ research paper, the LEP’s digital exclusion report was carried out by New Skills Consulting.

Using data from the Office for National Statistics, it shows more than 200,000 people in the North East LEP area have either never used the internet, or have not used it in the last three months. It also reinforces existing findings that show people from disadvantaged backgrounds are most affected by digital exclusion.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: ‘Whilst we know digital exclusion is a problem in the North East, the coronavirus pandemic has really exacerbated the issue and highlighted why we must address it now.

“This report has allowed us to see the scale of the problem for the first time, and how COVID-19 has extended the gap that already existed in our region.

“If we truly want to level up the country and provide opportunities for all, we must address the issue of digital exclusion, and we must do it in partnership with businesses, education, the voluntary sector, and the public sector.”

‘Digital Exclusion in the North East LEP Area’ highlights that whilst the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the pace of digital adoption, it has also widened the gap in areas like education and employment, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. A lack of in-person support during the pandemic has made it easier for people to withdraw, and limited access to digital devices has prevented people from accessing online training, job searches, and interviews.

Employers have also raised concerns about a lack of digital skills within the region’s workforce. A survey by the Department for Education in 2019 found 20% of North East employers found it difficult to recruit applicants with computer literacy or basic IT skills. 26% said they found it difficult to recruit people with advanced or specialist IT skills.

The report also looks at the effectiveness of existing initiatives to address digital exclusion, arguing that the current system is complex, with overlapping programmes and gaps in support. It also argues that much of the support available quickly becomes out of date and doesn’t meet the learning needs of people using the services.

Michelle continued: “If we look to countries like Finland, digital literacy is something that’s taught from kindergarten, it has the same level of importance as reading, writing and math’s.

“Whatever our agreed approach moving forward, we need to recognise that this issue isn’t just something that affects young people; it impacts people of all ages and at every stage in their lives. If people can’t access online tools to extend their learning, or can’t search and apply for employment opportunities online, how can they get into work or move up the career ladder from low-skill to high-skill jobs?”

The report puts forward a series of recommendations, recognising that the region’s response requires the support of academia; business; the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector; and the public sector.

Carol Botten, CEO of VONNE (Voluntary Organisations Network North East) and member of the North East LEP Skills Advisory Panel (SAP), said: “Some of the recommendations in our report can be delivered regionally, but others will need the support of Government and other stakeholders.

“We need to address the problem of access to digital devices, and how connectivity can be an additional barrier to people using digital services.

“We also need to prioritise education in digital skills from an early age, and ensure it becomes part of the curriculum in further and higher education.

“And by working with the business community, we can begin to develop a common framework for basic digital skills that meets the needs of employers.”

Michelle concluded: “Using the insights from this report and the IPPR North report, we plan to raise awareness of the scale of the challenge, agree a collective vision for the North East, and draw up the key areas we need to prioritise and address.

“This is a huge challenge for our region, and we won’t be able to tackle it all in one go. But we can start the process and make sure no one in the North East is left behind because they lack access to the digital skills, equipment and infrastructure so many of us take for granted.”

Read the Executive Summary of Digital Exclusion in the North East LEP Area by visiting the North East Evidence Hub.

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Supporting innovative North East firms to help lead the region’s economic recovery

The North East LEP is hosting a special event to help the North East’s innovation and technology sector understand and ask questions about the newly announced Future Fund.

Innovation, digital and technology-led businesses will power the engine that drives growth in the UK economy, and help lead the country’s, and our region’s, financial recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The presence and potential of technology startups is an indicator of a healthy, ambitious and resilient economy. These innovative, high potential firms feed cycles – they are a route to retaining and attracting talent in a place; they create the scale-ups of tomorrow; they can establish and support ecosystems for entrepreneurs to invest back into, which in turn attracts more entrepreneurs to a region. They build the technological innovations that will create jobs; develop supply chains; become our next exports.

This is why the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and HM Treasury has announced a financial support package – Future Fund – to protect UK businesses driving innovation and development from the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Future Fund

Launching today (Wednesday 20 May), Future Fund will give high-growth companies across the UK the investment they need to continue during this crisis. Providing loans between £125,000 and £5m from the government, private investors are required to at least match the government commitment. Future Fund is delivered through the British Business Bank.

Supporting North East businesses to access funding

To help our region’s dynamic businesses bid for funding, the North East LEP is hosting a webinar to explore the specifics of the Future Fund, including eligibility criteria and the application process. This is an opportunity to hear directly from regional investors and operators, including Northstar Ventures and SeedLegals. Tech founder and entrepreneur, Paul Smith, will chair the event.

The webinar will take place at 2pm on Thursday 28 May. For further information and to register your place, please visit the eventbrite page.

We welcome registrations from technology start-ups, investors, founders and innovation-led firms across all sectors.

Looking to the future of the sector

As well as discussing the immediate funding opportunity to support businesses through the coronavirus pandemic, we will also be using this event to take a longer-term view of the digital/tech/innovation sector in the North East and explore barriers to its growth.

The North East digital strategy recognises the huge importance of our tech community, which is driven, passionate and entrepreneurial. We want to support more of this by enabling greater cross-sectoral collaboration and raising the profile of our tech sector with investors and collaborators – from across the region and beyond.

We want to strengthen the relationship between creativity and innovation to maximise the translation of ideas into new products, solutions and businesses. And we want to support the wider ecosystem so that we see more innovative start-ups launching, flourishing and staying in the North East.

Join us on 28 May at 2pm to learn more about government’s support for innovative businesses and discuss how we, as a sector, can build the right environment for high growth businesses to thrive in the North East.

By Laura Partridge, Digital Programme Lead at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

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Steering group formed to support North East digital strategy

Eight members of the North East business and academic communities have been appointed to the North East’s Digital for Growth steering group, supporting the delivery of the region’s digital strategy.

The group includes a cross section of highly experienced representatives from business, education and the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which is leading on delivery of Digital for Growth.

Chairing the steering group is Stuart Lynn, Founder of Tech North East; Visiting Professor of Technology, University of Sunderland, and he is joined by steering group members Richard Baker (Head of Strategy and Policy, North East LEP), Deni Chambers (Assistant Principal, Gateshead College), Pete Daykin (Founder, WordNerds), Herb Kim (CEO, Thinking Digital Limited; David Goldman Visiting Professor of Enterprise & Innovation, Newcastle University Business School), Laura Partridge (Digital Programme Lead, North East LEP), Michelle Rainbow (Skills Director, North East LEP) and Alison Shaw (Professor of Practice for Success and Progression, Newcastle University).

Digital is identified in the North East LEP’s Strategic Economic Plan as one of four areas of strategic importance. By working together as one region and actively supporting the Digital for Growth strategy, there is a great opportunity to collectively enhance the North East’s digital credentials, create more and better jobs, and increase regional prosperity.

The steering group will support four delivery groups which bring together partners to drive forward the priority themes in the strategy: infrastructure, workforce, enterprise and data.

Stuart Lynn said: “The members of our new Digital for Growth steering group form a fantastic team and, between them, have expertise which spans the breadth of tech, digital, business growth and education.”

The North East Digital for Growth strategy was unveiled in early October 2019 and through a collaborative approach aims to maximise opportunities for growth and investment in the North East economy.

Digital for Growth identifies priority areas where the North East LEP will work with partners to build on the region’s assets. These areas are data; infrastructure and connectivity; digital collaboration and enterprise; and workforce.

The strategy has been built around the needs of the region, whilst leveraging the UK’s Industrial Strategy, the region’s Strategic Economic Plan, and the Local Industry Strategy.

Laura Partridge, Digital Programme Lead at the North East LEP, said “The success of Digital for Growth relies on the support of the entire North East digital and business community to make it a success.

“Within the strategy, we have built on the opportunities for the region identified in the North East Strategic Economic Plan and we’ve laid out a framework for maximising these opportunities and responding to challenges. Now is the time for us to align our digital assets and work together to take the region forward.”

The Digital for Growth steering group will oversee the ongoing development of the Digital for Growth strategy, helping to shape the delivery plan and align with networks and organisations across the region.

Read the North East Digital for Growth strategy here.


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North East Local Enterprise Partnership seeks digital partner… In conversation with Jen Robson, Head of Communications

As a public, private and education partnership set up to drive forward economic growth in the region, having an integrated communications strategy is key to the success of the North East LEP.

Digital communications forms a central part of our strategy. We are about to embark on a procurement process to find a partner who can work with us  to deliver best practice digital communications that raises the bar and delivers our objectives. We have a clear ambition for our websites and take evaluation and insight seriously. The world in which we operate can be pretty unique – it’s fast paced, often with a high volume of actions with short deadlines – something we dream will settle, but never quite seems to.

Over the years, we’ve learnt that having an agency, that has a variety of digital-specific, inhouse services and skills, where ideas can be shared, solutions can be found and delivery can be responsive, is critical to achieving our goals.  That’s why we’re looking for a supplier who can deliver all of the following services:

  • Digital and marketing consultancy and strategy
  • Creative, web and UX design
  • Web development
  • Content production including creative, copy and film
  • Digital marketing
  • Website management and maintenance
  • Website hosting
  • Analytics, evaluation of website and digital marketing activities.

The official procurement process will start in November, but we are keen to meet potential partners and share information about our strategies, platforms and ambitions at a ‘Meet the Buyer’ pre-procurement event on Friday 25 October from 10am until 3pm at The Crowne Plaza in Newcastle.

You’ll hear from the team and a former supplier so that you can understand our requirements and what it’s like to work with us – warts and all – before you start with the paperwork. There’ll be an opportunity for question and answers and one-to-ones. It’s a chance to help shape the next steps in our procurement exercise so what we’re asking for is in line with what you can deliver.

Full details of the event are on the NEPO Portal so please do make sure you are registered at www.NEPO.org to access all the information. Hope to see you there.



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Digitalisation and the North East: an opportunity for growth

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has recently appointed Laura Partridge to the role of Digital Programme Lead. Here, Laura explains what the role involves and how she is working with partners in the North East digital sector to develop a programme of projects and communications activity which will strengthen the profile of the region.

At the North East LEP our ultimate ambition is to create 100,000 more jobs for the North East, and for 70% of these to be ‘better’ jobs. Our Strategic Economic Plan for the region lays out how we plan to do this, together with our partners, by 2024.

The Plan identifies areas of strategic importance – key sectors, clusters and assets which offer significant potential to build the economy and create jobs. Digital is one of these areas of opportunity, alongside energy; advanced manufacturing; and health and life sciences. Digitalisation is also recognised as a cross-cutting theme for the Plan as a whole, reflecting the increasing opportunities for digital adoption to drive productivity, improve services and change business models.

As the North East LEP’s Digital Programme Lead, my role is to work with the digital community to develop a strategy that shows how the region can add value to our existing digital strengths, assets and networks, and how we can build the profile of the North East as a smart region, sharpening our competitive advantage and increasing opportunities for growth. The strategy will be published later in the summer.

Of course, the digital landscape is, by its nature, diverse and constantly changing. Our digital community spans everything from immersive technology and artificial intelligence to gaming and software design. Looking at the future economy, digital is increasing cross-cutting, with opportunities and impacts across all sectors of industry and across society.

As a region, we have significant strengths when it comes to digital businesses. We are home to a wide range of start-ups, SMEs and large businesses delivering a range of products and services. We have fast-growing, innovative businesses which have chosen to base themselves in the region, with more than 29,000 people employed in the ICT and digital sectors in the region. We have excellence in our academic and research organisations. And we have a community of hubs and networks which are tireless in their support of the digital ecosystem. As a sector we are ambitious, innovative and skilled.

As vibrant as our sector is, we also have some key challenges to face. For example, we know that we need more incubator spaces and shared workspaces for emerging businesses. Tech businesses have told us that they often experience difficulty in accessing finance and the support they need to grow. And the sheer breadth and diversity of the sector presents challenges in how we communicate and position ourselves when talking to a national and international audience, including to potential investors.

In the wider economy, supporting established businesses to adopt digital technologies and transform their industries is going to be a fundamental requirement for the future, requiring our business support and skills programmes and our infrastructure to be continually reshaped. Through collaboration with partners we must enable individuals and companies to acquire and develop the skills they need to deliver growth and remain competitive.

We have a community of passionate, driven and entrepreneurial individuals and networks, and their expertise is a huge asset. My role will be to work with our partners in the digital sector to align our voices, identify areas of opportunity for the North East and work together to communicate the strengths of the region nationally and internationally and to support them to drive change in our economy. Over the next few months I’ll talk more about each of these themes, and how we are working alongside the North East digital community to bring more and better digital-focused jobs and to drive digital change in our region.

You can find out more about the role of digital in the North East Strategic Economic Plan here.

Laura Partridge, Digital Programme Lead, North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

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In conversation with Debbie Edwards, CEO of FDisruptors, about women in STEM

Can you tell us about FDisruptors and why the company was established?

I’ve had a 25-year career in marketing and growth strategy, working with some amazing companies and talented people. Quite a lot of those were very male dominated though; women were few and far between, and so I have always understood the challenges that women can sometimes face when they enter into male dominated industries.

A few years ago I started to have conversations with my teenage daughters about where they wanted their lives to go and sadly they did not seem to be talking about tech at all – I became really conscious that if young women didn’t look at tech as a serious career opportunity they could be left out of some of the most exciting industries and innovations that we have ever seen.

When I set up FDisruptors I didn’t want to build something women didn’t want or need. I felt strongly that it was time that we started a different narrative around tech – a narrative where we showed them the magic of tech and the impact they could have in the world if they jumped on board. So I designed a pilot programme of learning and gave them access to opportunities to help to build their confidence and primarily to shift their perceptions on technology and their perceptions of what they were capable of. It was the best four months of my career to date and it formed the basis of what has now become the new FDisruptors platform.

Is there more organisations could be doing to encourage young girls and women into the tech sector?

Storytelling is key, that’s really important. Young people and young women engage with authentic stories. They want to hear about real people – people who have changed careers or failed and got back up, or taken a new unexpected path and succeeded – or sometimes not.

It’s also important to hear from women who have done it in lots of different ways and from women from lots of different places – we need different voices, opinions and backgrounds. Storytelling resonates because a girl will see that and think – if they can do it, I can do it too.

A confidence gap still exists too. To inspire girls, and make them think they can, we need to work on self-belief and confidence as well as equipping them with real world skills for a very new world of work. We cannot drive more women to choose a career in tech without giving them the tools to also thrive within that industry – if we do that then you will not only see more women in tech but they will also be driven by purpose, and will be armed with talent and skills that will absolutely transform tech across every industry.

Are any succeeding in making a change?

I’m talking to more and more companies that are very intentional in their desire to invest in diversity, which is very positive. However, it’s not just about changing the language in a job description; it’s about a layered approach. We have a huge challenge ahead of us and culturally it’s a big issue to unpick. Ultimately a more diverse workforce is good for business, good for your culture, makes you a much more appealing place to work and makes it a more interesting place to work. It also ensures that you are building products or developing services that more truly reflect the customers and communities that you serve. So there really is no excuse for not integrating diversity into your workplace – it is essential to running a successful business of the future.

What’s been your personal experience as a women working in the tech/creative/digital sector?

Overall it’s been great but of course there are some challenges. Having worked in other industries that are also male dominated though I have to say that I don’t think tech is the only industry that has challenges with diversity and the promotion of women to leadership positions.

On a personal note I was surprised to experience ageism when I was initially raising finance for FDisruptors. There can be an assumption that the majority of people developing tech platforms are young and that is absolutely not the case. Tech is the single most accessible sector in which to develop a business or a career regardless of age, background, ethnicity or gender. I just need to be armed with my creativity and a laptop and the rest is up to me – no restrictions, no limitations. If we truly want to attract more diversity into tech then we have to challenge stereotypes at all levels and quickly.

What are the barriers to women pursuing a career in STEM?

I think many women have a perceived stereotype of what a person in tech looks like. It’s a white guy; a maths genius or physics geek and they’ll be coding at a computer all their life.

When we have presented tech to girls in the past it has been a bit one dimensional – presenting only code clubs means that they only see one part of the picture. There is so much more to tech careers and being a tech entrepreneur, and it is absolutely vital that they get to see much more variety surrounding those pathways and the role models within tech across every sector.

There is definitely still a confidence gap too – it has been proven that confidence in girls experiences a huge dip during the ages of 8-15. This is key, as it is right at a time when they are expected to make some of their biggest decisions around study and careers. During my pilot programme we saw the positive results of leading with confidence training – ultimately if we can change the lens through which a young women sees herself we can change her outlook on what she believes she can achieve.

What role does education have to play in supporting more women into STEM roles and employment?

Schools have a huge part to play, and their role as influencers around careers have really come under the spotlight in the past few years as highlighted by the Gatsby Report. Ultimately, we are working with schools to help them to be able to equip their students with the skills that are absolutely needed from the workforce of the future. That is two fold for us – firstly we need to work together to get better about encouraging girls to take STEM subjects but more than that – we need to get better at helping them to visualise how they will progress into a STEM related career as without this context the stats show that even girls who do choose STEM will still not enter into this field.

It is also about delivering tech skills to every single young person, regardless of their chosen career, so they are more equipped when they join the world of work. Tech should be integrated across the curriculum giving us the best possible chance to send fully fledged digital citizens out into a world that is now digital by default.

I had a really amazing conversation with a head teacher recently about how they want to create more alternative pathways for young people – she said it was time to look at students as individuals and who they are right now, so they could provide better careers advice and not only drive students towards Universities but support them into a much wider variety of career options. This kind of approach is great to see, but it will require much more support and funding for careers in schools if we have any hope of integrating it in this way.

Who are your female role models in the STEM sector?

For me, I love people that are doing things quietly but brilliantly.

There is a fantastic free app on the market called Clementine, which is designed by women for women. It’s all around confidence, self-belief, reducing anxiety and focusing on sleep, meditation etc.

I also love people like designer Stella McCartney who is reaching out and collaborating with tech in a way we’ve never seen before. She has worked with Bio Tech pioneers, Bolt Threads, on a project to create ethical, sustainable fashion using science and new technology. It’s a brave and bold move but it is so exciting to see pioneers coming together to produce something new and unique that might just change the way our clothes are made and ultimately save the planet.

There’s more information on the FDisruptors website.

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New Science and Innovation Audit identifies ways the North East can prepare for Industry 4.0 – the fourth industrial revolution.

The integration of digital technologies into manufacturing is a major opportunity for businesses in the North East according to the findings of a new Science and Innovation audit.

Through a new audit of the region’s advanced manufacturing and digital sectors, the North East LEP and partners have identified opportunities for businesses in the automotive, pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing sectors to build links with the North East digital sector, increasing the region’s competitiveness in the global marketplace.

James Davies, North East LEP Innovation Programme Manager, said: “In the North East we have a reputation for making things and making them well and our goods and products remain the source of the majority of our exports. However, the way we make these goods is continually changing and the region must prepare for this next great shift. We see the potential for links between the digital and advanced manufacturing sectors leading to new types of products and services.

“Our Applied Digital Technologies Science and Innovation Audit (SIA) was carried out in partnership with organisations across the North East and Tees Valley, with the aim of understanding more about how Industry 4.0 will impact on some of the North East’s biggest businesses.”

Based on a proposition set out by the German Government, Industry 4.0 refers to the next stage in manufacturing that uses new, digital and real-time approaches to production to meet demand for more complex, individualised and digitally enabled products.

The North East LEP worked with Tees Valley Combined Authority, local business and sector organisations, universities and the national Catapult Centres for Digital (North East and Tees Valley) and High Value Manufacturing (CPI) to carry out the SIA, gathering information on the opportunities and challenges facing three of the North East’s biggest manufacturing sectors: automotive, chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

The audit also looked into how the region’s digital sector can provide solutions, for example by using digital technologies to drive efficiency and competitiveness within the manufacturing process.

James Davies added: “We knew there was already work being done in the North East to use digital technologies to make our manufacturing more productive and competitive and the audit has helped to show what can be done to support more of this type of integration. We found opportunities to accelerate the adoption of digital technologies within advanced manufacturing businesses in the region, including actions that will help overcome the barriers to uptake.

“The digitisation of manufacturing is a major opportunity for us here in the North East and we will now be working with partners to roll out delivery of the recommendations from the audit.”

A summary of the Applied Digital Technologies in Advanced Manufacturing Science and Innovation Audit can be read here, while the full report can be downloaded here.


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Growing our Digital Future

We are working closely with Accenture to encourage schools to participate in their Digital Skills programme – a free initiative for schools to help students enhance their experiences of digital communications.

Thanks to Ryan Gibson, Facilitator for the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot, for this blog about digital careers in the North East, and the many reasons why teachers should encourage students to participate in the programme.

I wonder if like me, you have often heard phrases such as the ‘digital economy’, ‘digital literacy’ or ‘digital community’ but not really taken the time to reflect on what these actually mean, their impact on economic growth, the prosperity of the region, more and better jobs and the implications for how we prepare young people to enter and thrive in an ever changing labour market.

A North East of England Chamber of Commerce survey in 2015 found that 66% of businesses believed that education was not effectively preparing young people for work. The House of Lords have stated that digital skills should be taught as a third core subject, valued as important as achievement in Maths and English.

How many of us now check the news using an app on our phone, connect with friends and family on facebook, use internet banking, shop online, follow people on twitter or connect with them on LinkedIn. When reflecting on your own professional role, I wonder if you recognise similar things to me? I am increasingly working with platforms such as Google Docs and Dropbox, collecting, collating, presenting and evaluating big data, tweeting, using LinkedIn, using Skype and writing blogs! It is challenging isn’t it and certainly something I was not prepared for. I had to learn as I went, picking up bits and pieces from colleagues who seemed to have mastered this whole new world.

Businesses, and especially SMEs, report that digital skills are becoming essential in all areas of work, regardless of the sector. Indeed a quick glance at online job posts and vacancy websites reinforces the growing demand for digitally competent individuals. While it is not possible to predict exactly what digital skills a young person may need in the future, it is important that we work to ensure that they can evidence a level of digital skills that will appeal to an employer – ensuring that they are both prepared and equipped to take advantage of better job opportunities.

So what exactly are those job opportunities in the North East. Well, take a look at our refreshed Strategic Economic Plan for the region. The North East digital community is one of the most vibrant, productive and rapidly developing in the UK.

With over 29,000 IT and digital employees working in the region and a further 15,250 creative industries employees, we have a technology industry valued at £2 billion – part of a northern ICT economy worth £12 billion. And isn’t it fantastic that the Headquarters of FTSE 100 listed software leader, Sage, shared service centres for HP, BT, Accenture and IBM are all located in the North East.

There is also a fantastic network of business support organisations operating here in the region, which I will talk about in a future blog.

So, with fantastic opportunities comes a key challenge – how can we better prepare and equip each and every young person with the digital skills they need to take advantage of job opportunities and thrive in this hotbed of digital activity? We are delighted to support Accenture’s ‘Digital Skills’ programme, as it’s a fantastic way of doing just that.

This free online course, designed by Accenture, is available to 16+ year olds and focuses on six modules:

  • Digital fundamentals
  • Social media
  • Digital marketing
  • User Experience
  • Mobility
  • Analytics

These six units can be integrated into sixth form / college curriculum or can be studied by students in their own time and at their own pace. The MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) uses the Future Learn platform to deliver an innovative social learning approach, supported with over 90 bitesize videos and individualised assessments to recognize achievement. On completion, students receive an Accenture ‘digital badge’, accrediting and validating their learning and allowing them to evidence their skills to employers across the region.

As an educator, I can’t help but see how beneficial this could be on a student’s UCAS, apprenticeship or job application form and how important it is to help young people build their professional online profile. With 27% growth in digital salaries in the North East, over 1500 current vacancies in the region, a projected 745000 more workers needed with digital skills by the end of 2017 and 49% of SMEs saying they lack workers with basic digital skills – can we really afford not to take advantage of such amazing opportunities?

If you think that your students could benefit from this free programme, please contact [email protected] by the end of June. Sign up now and be ready to begin the course in September.

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Free digital technology programme launched to help North East businesses grow

Businesses in the North East can now access a free digital technology programme thanks to a new initiative from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP).

The programme, aimed at SMEs, will focus on utilising technology to promote business growth and expansion.

Growth through Digital Technology is a partnership between the North East LEP and some of the technology sector’s biggest names including Microsoft, BT, Google, Uber and Nominet. Local partners including Federation of Small Businesses, Asian Business Connexions, Sunderland Software City, Digital Skills Academy and the Department for International Trade are also supporting the initiative.

The first event on Thursday 24 November – delivered by BT in association with Uber and the SME Centre of Excellence – will focus on using technology to deliver faster and more profitable growth. Speakers include Mike Jones, an entrepreneur with a number of small businesses, formerly founding MD of BT Local Business, a BT division serving over one million SME customers; and Senior Operations Manager at Uber UK, Gemma Bloemen.

Colin Bell, Business Growth Director at the North East LEP said: “We’ve teamed up with organisations including FSB, BT and Nominet to help small to medium sized businesses in the North East LEP area use digital technology to scale up.

“Our series of free masterclasses and seminars will cover everything from selling online to attracting new customers. We’ll also be looking at how digital technology can be used to control costs and finances, as well as build long-term business resilience.

“We’ll be helping businesses access free advice from experts in the field so they can draft and implement a digital strategy that works for their business.”

Chris Yiu, General Manager at Uber, added, “We’re really excited to be involved with the North East LEP. There is a fantastic tech scene here in the North East and we really want to play a role in making it a leading tech hub.”

Designed for businesses looking to expand their digital presence and use new technology to grow their operation, Growth through Digital Technology will provide SMEs in the region access to expert help as well as supporting tools and techniques via business support platform, the North East Growth Hub (northeastgrowthhub.co.uk).

In addition to the series of free masterclasses and seminars, funding to support businesses in developing a digital technology action plan has been secured via Northumberland-based enterprise agency NBSL and the North East Business Support Fund.

Colin continued: “This is a fantastic programme and one that many businesses could really benefit from. Research has shown that organisations that adopt digital technology grow faster and enjoy higher growth profits. That’s something we want more companies in the North East to achieve.”

Some of the free masterclasses businesses can sign up to include; ‘Attracting customers with killer content’, ‘Using the cloud to manage operations and mange performance’ and ‘Using digital technology to trade internationally’.

The programme’s first event, ‘Delivering faster and more profitable growth’, takes place on Thursday 24 November.