Staffordshire University has a £17m plan to make the West Midlands a hub for digital skills

A new £17m apprenticeship hub is to be built in the West Midlands amid growing demand for digital skills in the region.

Staffordshire University plans to start work on the project at its Stoke-on-Trent campus after securing support from organisations and companies including Microsoft.

More people in the West Midlands have learnt basic digital skills over the past three years than anywhere else in Britain, according to research from Ipsos Mori. There are 13% more people who can use search engines, send emails and buy from online stores in that part of the country than in 2015, beating a 5% rise in the South East and a 3% decline in London.

However, the West Midlands is still considered to have a below average number of people with basic digital skills.

Credit: Ipsos Mori

Staffordshire University’s hub aims to address this issue, with Vice-Chancellor Professor Liz Barnes adding that there is a “clear and pressing need to develop high level skills for young people in our area”. It plans to deliver more than 6,500 new apprenticeships over the next decade to equip people with the digital skills 21st century employers are looking for.

Government Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton welcomed the news. “We are thrilled about this ambitious project, and the work Staffordshire University, local businesses, councils and employers are doing to provide real opportunities for more and better higher level apprenticeships,” she said.

“The Digital Apprenticeship and Skills Hub will make sure businesses and individuals have the technical skills they need to get on – and that everyone is able to pursue the jobs or careers that are right for them.”

Employers across the UK will also be able to access the hub, set to open in 2020, to get support and advice on apprenticeships.

Learn more about Microsoft’s Digital Skills Programme

Girl using Microsoft Surface Book

Microsoft will offer insight into cutting-edge technology and how to use it, to ensure all students have a high level of digital literacy. The company has launched its own digital skills programme in the UK, which runs until 2020. It aims to ensure the country remains one of the global leaders in cloud computing, artificial intelligence and other next-generation technologies.

Microsoft will recruit an extra 30,000 digital apprentices through its own programme for its network of 25,000 partners in the UK; train 30,000 public servants for free in a range of digital skills; and make sure everyone in the UK has access to free, online digital literacy training that will prepare them for a world in which companies, schools and governments embrace technology to transform how they work.

Additionally, the technology firm also launched a Cloud Skills Initiative, which will train 500,000 people in the UK in advanced cloud technology.

Microsoft will offer insight into cutting-edge technology and how to use it

Chris Perkins, Microsoft’s Public Sector Lead and Executive Sponsor for Skills, said: “We believe it is important that the UK continues to provide varied routes into digital careers. Through our Microsoft Digital Skills Programme, we’re committed to helping everyone in the UK take a step up in their digital skills and prepare for the jobs of the future.

“Our collaboration with Staffordshire University is part of this ongoing commitment and our pledge to create 30,000 new Digital Apprenticeship opportunities through our Apprenticeship Training Partners by 2020.”

Staffordshire University’s hub will be built with £8 million of funding from the Higher Education Funding Council, and the project is also backed by Staffordshire County Council, Stoke-on-Trent City Council and college partners. Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce will work with the university to set up an Apprenticeship Training Agency on the site that will help small businesses benefit from apprenticeship opportunities.

“We are thrilled to be growing our learning community at the same time as connecting with employers to develop the new courses which will positively impact on the region’s digital capabilities,” Barnes added.