New digital partnership aims to level up West Midlands skills

Tech giants Amazon and Cisco are among the members of the new West Midlands Digital Skills Partnership, which held its first meeting today (Thursday, December 6).

The partnership brings together tech firms, businesses, universities, colleges and training providers from the region, and is aiming to find ways to improve local people’s digital skills and qualifications.

Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street attended the inaugural meeting of the partnership at Coventry College, while Stourbridge MP and Minister of State for Digital and the Creative Industries, Margot James, sent a video message underlining her hopes for the partnership.

New digital partnership aims to level up West Midlands skills

From left to right: Dr Yanguo Jing from Coventry University, Clare Hatton from the WMCA, Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street, Coventry College principal Peter Brammall, Dave Maclean from the Digital Skills Partnership, Kevin Vashi from the WMCA, School of Code graduate Clare Streets and Dr Chris Meah from the School of Code, at the launch of the West Midlands Digital Skills Partnership

The Mayor said: "The West Midlands is the place to be for digital: we’ve got the fastest-growing digital sector outside London, we will act as the UK’s testbed for ultra-fast 5G internet, and we have ambitious plans to double our digital industry’s economic output over the next decade.

"To do that, we need a pipeline of skilled, qualified digital staff: and we want those staff to come from within the West Midlands.

"The Digital Skills Partnership will take a very local view – developing training provision and new career pathways across the West Midlands. It will make suggestions to improve how we recruit and retain the skilled digital staff we need, and ultimately help double the size of our digital economy to create a sustainable £9bn industry for the future."

Companies working in cyber security, video gaming, artificial intelligence and creative digital disciplines in the region will require a steady stream of qualified digital staff to sustain record levels of growth in the industry – it’s estimated the West Midlands will need as many as 29,000 more skilled digital workers over the next ten years.

The partnership has been organised by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) to address that challenge and help link local people to training and opportunities in the region’s booming digital industry – a sector which grew by over 33% between 2011 and 2015 and could contribute £8.9bn to the West Midlands economy by 2030.

Minister for Digital, Margot James, said: "We are completely committed to improving the digital skills of people from all ages and backgrounds so everyone can enjoy the benefits of our thriving digital economy.  

"The West Midlands Local Digital Skills Partnership will help employers plan for the future, recruit a skilled workforce and boost the region's economy, as part of the government's modern industrial strategy that is building prosperous communities across the country."

The partnership will also help to define the region’s digital strategy, including a £5m package for digital training.

It will include representatives from Amazon, Cisco, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Fujitsu, Colmore Tang, Aston University, Coventry University, the NHS, Walsall College and the WMCA. Some employers have already pledged to support the partnership, including CapGemini, which will introduce its coding re-training programme in the West Midlands.

Cllr George Duggins, leader of Coventry City Council and WMCA portfolio holder for productivity and skills, said: "Digital skills are increasingly important, as businesses modernise and rely more and more on the Internet, computer-aided design, coding and technology.

"The Digital Skills Partnership will help make sure that people in the West Midlands have the chance to gain useful digital qualifications to find careers in the region’s growing digital industry. We know we need thousands more digitally skilled workers in the next few years, and this partnership brings experts and digital companies together to meet that need."

Sheridan Ash, Women in Tech leader and Tech She Can Founder at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said: "As part of the Tech She Can Charter’s aims to collaborate with government, we are pleased to work closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the Digital Skills Partnerships (DSP), including the one in the West Midlands. Tech She Can is committed to working in partnership with government, business and education to encourage young people to consider careers in technology, especially young girls.

"The launch of the DSP in the West Midlands comes in the same week as we also launch a Tech We Can pilot programme in the same area with five Coventry schools. We are working with teachers to break down the barriers that are preventing females considering tech subjects and careers, whilst at the same time attracting more males into tech. At a time when the lack of tech skills in the workforce is seen as one of the top three issues for CEOs, we need initiatives to tackle the overall low numbers of pupils that say tech is their first choice career, no matter what gender they are."

Paul Noon, pro-vice-chancellor for enterprise and innovation at Coventry University said: "The formation of this partnership, which brings together educators, employers and other key players, clearly demonstrates the serious ambitions the mayor and the combined authority have for growing our region’s already vibrant digital economy. 

"Skills provision is obviously central to any plans for boosting our capabilities and with research and teaching expertise in areas like AI, business analytics, cyber security, and immersive technologies, we have a big part to play. We’re delighted to be involved in the partnership." 

Peter Brammall, principal and chief executive of Coventry College, which hosted the launch, said: "It was an honour to host the inaugural meeting of the West Midlands Digital Skills Partnership and a pleasure to welcome representatives from the organisations which form it.

"The West Midlands has a thriving digital community, and at Coventry College we want to make sure we are educating our students to the highest possible standard so they can fill roles across the industry in the near future and make a major contribution to the digital economy going forward.

"To be able to play such a major part in the launch of this partnership is a major coup for us and we look forward to working with the West Midlands Digital Skills Partnership in the future."