Home / digitalisation

Uncovering digital talent in the North East

Sunderland Software City, which supports digital and tech businesses to grow and become sustainable, is part of the North East Digital for Growth Workforce delivery group.

We spoke to Jill McKinney, Head of Skills and Training at Sunderland Software City, about how the working group is addressing the complexity of the digital skills gap and how we can make careers in the digital sector accessible to everyone.

The issue of digital skills in the workforce is high on everyone’s agenda and it’s an issue that isn’t going to go away.

As more businesses are digitalised there will be a massive step-change in demand for digital talent, and this is only going to increase.

Yes North East businesses can innovate and yes, they can digitalise. But how can we make sure that they also have access to the people and the talent they need? This question applies across all sectors, from manufacturing and engineering to healthcare and education.

And this is why the North East Digital for Growth strategy is so important.

As part of the strategy, four delivery groups have been formed, each focusing on a different theme: data; infrastructure and connectivity; digital collaboration and enterprise; and workforce. The workforce delivery group, which includes Sunderland Software City, is diverse and task-focused and one thing I’d like to see us develop is an understanding of which digital skills initiatives are working well across the region, so we can scale up programmes that are effective.

For example, at Sunderland Software City we are already working with thousands of learners in schools, colleges and universities; with people who are unemployed or looking for a career change; and with ex-offenders, helping all these people to take steps on the pathway to a digital career.

And of course we also work with businesses – in the digital sector and across the board – helping them to upskill their current workforce and making sure that they have access to the talent they need in order to grow.

There is a huge layer of ‘hidden talent’ in the North East. For example, people who are leaving education but who don’t have the support they need in order to take the next steps into a digital career. To help address this, we work with schools from primary level upwards to help raise awareness amongst young people of the opportunities we have here and give an extra layer of careers guidance.

We run a five-day ‘boot camp’ for young people aged 16 to 25 who aren’t in employment, education or training and who might not otherwise have access to roles in the digital sector, introducing them to the diversity of businesses they could work with and helping them start on the pathway to a career.

We also work with people of all ages who are unemployed or looking for a career change, and, more recently, we have started to work with ex-offenders, helping them to understand the skills they may need and what the digital landscape in the North East is like.

I believe that we do have the talent here in the region but what we lack is awareness about what roles are out there and how people can access them.

We’ve seen some fantastic results from our work. Research carried out by Durham University on behalf of Sunderland Software City showed that ex-offenders we worked with experienced improvements in mental health, feelings of self-worth, and ability to learn new skills. A number of participants have now moved on to employment in digital roles or have started their own businesses. So how can we scale up activities like these which we know are working well?

A collaborative approach will be key to making sure that we retain talent in our region and helping people to realise that there are opportunities here for them.

There is a lot of talent here in the North East, but the digital sector can be difficult for some people to break into. We need to break down the barriers and invite people in.

Read the North East Digital for Growth strategy. You can sign up to receive news and opportunities for the digital sector from the North East LEP here.


Home / digitalisation

Harnessing digital potential in the North East

At the start of October, a new digital strategy for the North East was launched. Digital for Growth brings together partners from across the region to maximise opportunities for growth and investment. North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Skills Director, Michelle Rainbow, talks about digital skills and how our workforce will form a vital component of this new digital strategy.

The North East is a region with a vibrant digital ecosystem that is packed with the potential to deliver economic growth and more, new jobs as it continues to flourish.

That’s not just jobs which might be typically defined as digital – for example, gaming design or software development – but roles across all areas of industry, as more and more organisations embrace digitalisation and the increased productivity it brings

To make sure we’re in the best possible position to reap the benefits of digitalisation for our region, we need to focus on the digital skills needs that we know exist in the North East. We must make sure that people in our area – both our existing workforce and the workforce of the future – have the digital skills that employers are looking for, and the skills that will allow everyone to fully take part in an increasingly digitalised society.

We want to completely dispel any myths and stereotypes that exist when people think about digital skills, or careers in the digital sector, and we want to empower people of all ages and backgrounds to upskill and take advantage of new technologies and digital job opportunities.

Part of our work around this will be to link employers closely with schools, colleges and education providers to ensure that young people, from primary-school age onwards, understand the range of possibilities open to them in our region, whether that’s a career in a digitally focussed organisation or a role in any sector which will require sound digital skills.

The Digital for Growth strategy focuses on the many digital hubs and networks we have in the region, plus our colleges, universities and training providers. Strong relationships between education and industry are already having a positive impact and we want to see more of this happening throughout the region, across businesses of all sizes and types.

We also believe it’s especially important that employers continue to look to the future, champion digital skills development and invest in training for their workforce. Lifelong learning, training opportunities, mid-career retraining and non-linear career paths are other examples of areas where employers can take positive action to upskill existing workers and help to secure a pipeline of appropriately-skilled people for years to come.

The North East LEP aims to create 100,000 more and better jobs in the North East by 2024, and many of these jobs will be within the digital sector, or they will require strong digital skills.

Working together to address our digital skills needs is vital if we are to make sure that people in our region can enjoy a better quality of life, if our businesses are to continue to grow and take on new staff, and if our young people are to build fulfilling and successful careers.

Read more about the North East’s Digital for Growth strategy here. If you’d like to join the North East LEP’s working group for digital skills, please get in touch at [email protected].


Home / digitalisation

North East digital strategy is revealed

Today a new digital strategy for the North East was revealed. Digital for Growth has been created with the aim of bringing together partners across the North East to maximise opportunities for growth and investment in the region.

The strategy is being led by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and builds on opportunities identified in the region’s Strategic Economic Plan – the road map for creating more and better jobs in the North East.

Laura Partridge, Digital Programme Lead at the North East LEP, said: “We have ambitious and innovative businesses operating in the digital sphere in every part of the North East, ranging from start-ups to established global names.

“Add to that our universities, our digital hubs and networks, and the vast range of businesses in all sectors which are embracing digitalisation, and you have a digital ecosystem which is key to our future success as a region.” 

The full strategy was launched today at an event attended by representatives from the North East digital community including digital businesses, academia, digital networks and enterprises.

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 is led by the North East LEP and will be delivered in partnership with businesses and organisations across the North East, and overseen by a Digital for Growth steering group.

Stuart Lynn, Founder of Tech North East, said: “We know that digital technology and digitalisation present huge opportunities for the North East, and the best way for us to capitalise on these is by working together as a region. Digital for Growth brings together our digital businesses, networks and communities, providing a clear direction for us to continue to grow and develop our digital sector.”

Laura Partridge added: “There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer when it comes to digital and this is an area of the economy that’s continually evolving and changing. This strategy will therefore be flexible and dynamic and be a thematic pipeline of activity which will be reviewed in response to new opportunities and challenges.

“Ultimately, our aim is to demonstrate that we’re home to a collaborative, cohesive and ambitious digital economy, and to reap the benefits of this for our businesses and communities. We have such a vibrant and ambitious digital sector that I have no doubt we can work together to achieve our aims.”

The Digital for Growth strategy can be read here.

Home / digitalisation

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.