Digital tech skills plans for East Anglia 'must bring more talent to region'
Schemes to invigorate the digital skills agenda in Norfolk and Suffolk will also need to tackle recruitment issues in the region's tech industry.
This is the view of a stalwart of the local sector who is involved in a new group to identify and address its skills gaps.
It comes as the New Anglia LEP launches its Digital Tech Skills Plan, which aims to help the tech sector meet growing demand for its services from public and private organisations.
It is estimated a further 10,000 tech roles, both new and replacement of existing positions, will be needed in Norfolk and Suffolk by 2024.
Paul Grenyer, co-organiser of Norfolk Developers, said that despite recent modernising strides the region still had an “image problem”.
“We need to bring more people into the region but many still see the area as a back-water, so we need to change those perceptions,” he said. “Employers also need to look at how they recruit and advertise their jobs.”
The LEP digital skills plan has three core themes, which centre around collaboration between employers and education institutions, opening up alternative career pathways for young people and graduates – including via apprenticeships – and retraining the current workforce.
Mr Grenyer, director of software developer Naked Element, said apprenticeships were “reasonably common” in the industry, but not utilised enough.
“The right people are not being put forward for them – they are seen as a route for people who cannot go to university rather than as an alternative,” he said.
He added that tech companies could be doing themselves a disservice by shunning in-work training schemes. “Tech companies, especially in this area, are quite small so they are always looking for someone who is going to hit the ground running. They do not want to take the time to train people.”
The Digital Tech Skills Plan will be delivered by industry body TechEast on behalf of its sector, which will also convene a task force to inform its progression. It will be supported by the New Anglia Skills Board and SkillsReach.
Mr Grenyer has helped to launch a skills gap working group, made up of tech experts and business agencies, which held its first meeting this week.
New Anglia’s Digital Tech Skills Plan
The East is already setting itself a precedent as a growing digital tech hub.
The 2017 TechNation report highlighted that the digital economy is growing twice as fast as the regional economy.
It listed Ipswich and Norwich as tech clusters with high growth potential, with a combined gross value added (GVA) of £328m, employing more than 17,500 people and with more than 200 start-up businesses since 2011.
Paul Winter, chairman of New Anglia LEP’s Skills Board, said: “Digital tech is among the fastest growing sectors in the East’s economy and is justifiably one of the priority sectors in the new Norfolk and Suffolk Economic Strategy.
“Our digital tech skills plan puts businesses at the leading edge of the industry right at the heart of the process.”
Neil Miles, chairman of TechEast, said: “I see this plan as the first key step to enabling local collaboration to ensure business growth and skills opportunities are maximised.”