Adult apprenticeships and better technical teaching on Norwich tech sector’s government wish list

Norfolk Developers Conference.

Norfolk Developers Conference. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Encouragement for technical qualifications and apprenticeships for adults were two suggestions put forward by Norfolk's technology industry to fill a skills gap.

Huw Sayer

Huw Sayer - Credit: Archant

Members of the Norfolk Developers group met to discuss ways the sector could be supported to grow after a breakfast with Norwich South MP Clive Lewis led to the former shadow business secretary inviting some of the region's tech leaders to visit parliament to make their voice heard.

Better technical qualifications and an apprenticeship-style system for adults were two of the suggestions to improve the availability of knowledge in the region.

Huw Sayer, who runs meet-up HotSource, chaired the meeting and said they had been keen to provide solutions.

He said: 'We decided that we wanted to focus on the short-term, the next three to five years. We recognised that the tech industry in Norfolk struggled to recruit people with the right skills, particularly in coding.

'Another issue we identified is that the education system does not necessarily give young people the skills and qualifications that industry would like them to have.

'There is a mismatch between what is being taught and what industry needs.'

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Mr Sayer pointed to an AQA tech-level in programming which is only taught at eight schools nationally as an example of a qualification which more businesses wanted youngsters to take. Mr Sayer said: 'The other area we discussed was finding a way to make it easier to retrain adults. It can be fairly quick to skill up in basic programming but as it stands you cannot pay an adult for an apprenticeship. It can be very difficult for small and medium enterprises or start-ups to upskill workers.'

Other areas of concern included a lack of public transport for those trying to access jobs as well as education and broadband connectivity for rural areas.

Paul Grenyer, co-organiser of Norfolk Developers, said the conversation had looked at the short-term as well as the long-term picture. 'I feel there is a skills shortage which is causing problems now,' he said. 'I think we have looked at both long and short-term. We are looking at the immediate future with retraining and also the longer term by making sure children are being taught the right skills.'

Retraining schemes could take advantage of the two universities in the city and Norwich University of the Arts has moved to provide creative science based courses.

Sarah Steed, business director at NUA, said: 'NUA has a strong vocational emphasis in all its degrees and welcomes any initiative which will link school and university courses towards appropriate employment opportunities in the creative industries. The UK has a history of providing a strong pipeline supply of creative students from schools to university and then to industry and we are anxious that the school curriculum allows this to continue.'

She added: 'Digital skills development is already a core component of the NUA experience and our fastest growing courses are those in digital media disciplines, which underlines the commercial growth in those sectors.

'The world of digital creative tech moves fast, and we are responding to this change by introducing three new creative science degrees in BSc games development, user experience Design and interaction design which require a qualification in Science, Maths or IT alongside a creative subject and creative portfolio. These sit alongside our existing BAs in animation, games art and design and VFX, all of which were designed in response to the developing ecology in the region of digital creative businesses. The new courses are unique in that they approach software engineering as a fundamentally creative discipline. We have developed them with input from leading digital creative players - and we expect that graduates from these courses will play a major role in the growth of the regional tech economy.'