Graduate skills will underpin the tech revolution in the East

Neil Miles, Chair TechEast

Neil Miles, Chair TechEast - Credit: Archant

Norfolk and Suffolk need to become a magnet for the best technical talent, leaders said today at the launch of a new body to promote the region's digital sector.

Business directors described the challenge of attracting the best brains to their enterprises in Norwich and Ipswich, claiming many graduates were heading to the capital without realising the quality of the technology businesses in East Anglia.

Leaders spoke of their optimism that a new unifying body for the industry in the region - Tech East - which was launched at the top of the BT Tower today, could help put the region on the map.

Peter Moore Fuller, director and designer at Norwich-based digital agency Made, highlighted the skills shortage by describing how an administrator job at his business had attracted 50 applications over a weekend, yet just three people had applied for a post as a developer.

'There is a bit of a problem both in keeping and attracting skills to the region. Graduates don't necessarily know what a fantastic community we have got and what amazing businesses we have,' he said. He added he had been talking to University of East Anglia students about opportunities in the sector, and said: 'It is a great place to live and work and business owners believe in that. We would like people to graduate and think of Norwich and Ipswich particularly as places they can come and do career-defining work.'

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He said Tech East was a chance for the East to 'stand up and be noticed'.

'Some Norwich agencies have pretend London addresses, but we are proud to be working in our community and haven't done that,' he said. 'It is an opportunity for us to join up and stand up and say we are here.'

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He also said he hoped that the new body could help forge links between bigger and smaller businesses in the region.

'I am hoping that Tech East is going to help build bridges between those organisation and those companies doing great things,'

Neil Miles, chairman of Tech East, said the initiative had been business-led. The board is hoping to set up an embassy in the capital where start-up businesses could meet clients and network with other businesses in the region.

'If you look at the short-term horizon, we want to make a difference to the smaller businesses and help them to grow,' he said.

A possible location for the embassy has been identified and potential costs calculated, said Mr Miles.

'It is fair to say we are going to need some kick-start funding and we are in conversations with a few people about where that might come from. I think it is much better to launch something on a smaller scale and wheel it out from there,' he added.

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Max Applin, the managing digital director of ApplinSkinner, based in St James' Mill in Norwich, was born and bred in the city.

The 29-year-old has been working in the digital industry for 10 years. 'I was of that generation which did not have a formal technology education. IT [Information Technology] at school for me was doing a Word document or Excel spreadsheet. There was never any programming, so for me I had to be self-taught.'

He started working through agencies and then doing freelance work before starting a business when he realised that he was working for many agencies which did not have in-house technical skills.

He agreed the key issue for businesses was talent and skills. 'You find people are still being pointed towards getting a job in London. Students coming through are filtered off. There is a lot to be had in Norwich in terms of developing a career,' he added.

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