The key to economic recovery is digital skills, says Newcastle College’s Director of Industrial Strategy, Andrew Esson.
The College is urging employers in the North East to take advantage of temporary financial incentives to hire apprentices, part of a package of measures announced by the Chancellor to help save jobs and the sinking UK economy. And it says digital apprentices should be at the top of any recruitment list.
“Now is the time for any business to consider an apprentice,” says Andrew. “These incentives, combined with existing funding offers give employers a real opportunity to boost the skillset of their workforce at a time that they may be worried about their finances.
“We are in a period of recovery and for some, survival, but with investment into apprenticeships, employers can ensure they will have the skills they need in a couple of years to move beyond that recovery into growth and ambition.
“It will be digital skills that allow that growth and this is a real opportunity for businesses of any size and from any sector to really begin thinking about their digital capabilities.”
Andrews comments follow last year’s launch of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP), Digital for Growth Strategy, which set out a vision to grow the region’s digital sector and increase the digital adoption and capabilities of all other industry. The strategy supports its broader aim to create more and better jobs by 2024 and includes a plan to close the region’s ‘digital skills gap’ by addressing a shortage of digital skills in education, business and society.
In response, Newcastle College (and its University Centre) set out to expand its digital offering with the help of a Digital Advisory Board, made up of Accenture, Bede Gaming, DXC, Waterstons, Virgin Money, Plan Digital and NBS. Its work with the Advisory Board and its close relationships with industry and the LEP has helped Newcastle College refine its digital programmes from college courses to degrees and apprenticeships, ensuring it is well placed to help businesses find the right skilled people.
“Having expert input from an Advisory Board and the LEP means that we know the technical and the soft skills that employers really need,” Andrew continues.
“We’ve developed all of our digital programmes around these needs to ensure they bring real benefit to employers, as well as the learners and apprentices themselves who are going to gain really valuable skills and qualifications.
“A really good example of this is our newly launched Foundation Degree in Engineering with Applied Digital Technologies. It allows students to train as an engineer while still gaining those really vital digital skills that are driving engineering and manufacturing businesses forward.
“In terms of apprenticeships, last year we launched a unique Digital and Technology Solutions Professional Degree Apprenticeship. It’s an accelerated programme that helps people to become fully qualified in just two years rather than the traditional three, and allows employers to really choose which digital paths are going to be most beneficial to them and their business.
“There are so many different strands of digital. As a college and a University Centre we are able to provide employers with candidates from an existing talent pool of students who are now ready to step into an apprenticeship opportunity as they already have many of the core skills they need to hit the ground running.”
The degree apprenticeship from Newcastle College University Centre supplements a number of Level 3 digital apprenticeships already offered by the College, covering software development, IT infrastructure and digital marketing.
Andrew continues: “It’s really easy to see why some employers may not think they can benefit from a digital apprentice. Especially in the current climate, they might want to focus solely on the hands-on skills they need to do what it is that their business does. That’s completely understandable and we offer those apprenticeships too – we have those learners ready and waiting to take up those roles.
“But I really would urge employers to think about those digital skills. Every industry is advancing and changing the ways we work thanks to digital technologies and investing in a digital apprentice now, will really put them in a better position in the future.
“As we work towards recovery of our local economy it’s really important that we don’t lose sight of the bigger picture and our ambitions for growth. Whether it is through embracing new technology, building a new website, or increasing your digital marketing capabilities, digital is the way to do this.”
Newcastle College’s expert apprenticeships team works with businesses to ensure that apprenticeships are right for them, providing tailored training, recruitment and support to help meet individual business needs.