Businesses and education providers in the North-East have teamed up to carry out a study on the potential for a new incubation studio to tackle vital skills shortages in emerging technology sectors, such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).
Gateshead College has secured £30,000 of funding for the project, which also involves Keighley College, Cumbria University, ESPA and Creative & Cultural Skills, alongside North East-based tech firms Sunderland Software City, Spearhead Interactive and PROTO: The Emerging Technology Centre, a soon-to-be-launched research and development facility for emerging technology and digital innovation.
Together, these organisations will investigate current skills gaps in the creative tech industries and how it could be bridged by a pipeline of new talent.
Funded by the Education and Training Foundation, and managed by the Association of Colleges (AoC), the project will also seek to provide meaningful work placements for young people – including those with autism – who have traditionally found it difficult to secure placements in local digital firms. Students would take on commissions from companies to give them valuable experience of finding solutions to real-life digital industry challenges, as well as gaining key employability skills, such as how to work effectively as part of a team.
“The North-East tech sector is worth almost £1bn, with the sector growing 2.6 times as fast as the rest of the economy.”
Alex Cook, innovation manager at PROTO, said: “Businesses across all sectors, not just the digital industry, are seeking to capitalise on the potential of emerging technologies, so it’s vital they have the skills to achieve this goal. This multi-partner project will explore different ways of helping industry to plug skills gaps and become more productive, whilst providing opportunities for young people to get the experience and skills they need to work in the sector.”
The feasibility study will be conducted and the findings analysed during the next few months. The aim is to come up with a firm plan of action by early next year, with the possibility of having the incubation unit operational at Gateshead College by the start of the 2019-20 academic year. If the model proves effective, it could be rolled out in other parts of the country.
A rise in the number of tech companies has fuelled demand for digital skills in the region. According to a recent report by accountancy firm RSM, the North-East saw a 78% increase in digital start-ups in 2017. The North-East tech sector is worth almost £1bn, according to a separate report from Tech Nation, with the sector growing 2.6 times as fast as the rest of the economy.
Simon Underhill, curriculum operations manager at Gateshead College, said: “We’re playing a major role in an innovative project that could shape the digital skills agenda in the North-East and beyond. It will give students a supportive environment in which to develop the professional competencies and technical skills needed by digital firms to drive their business forward.”