The West Midlands is the place to be for digital. We have the fastest growing digital sector outside London and we have ambitious plans to double the industry’s economic output over the next decade.
We estimate our digital industry will employ more than 100,000 people by 2030, and I want local people to have the skills they need to lead this thriving sector.
Technology is the ‘golden thread’ across many of our key industries – including advanced manufacturing, life sciences, professional services, construction, logistics, transport and low carbon technology.
We know that with rising automation, a changing job landscape and the job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic, technology will be the engine driving the region’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
And one positive effect of the COVID-19 lockdown is that with an increase in agile working, organisations are placing increased importance on their cyber security, online offering and hardware functionality – meaning there are more job opportunities in technology for local people.
Sadly, we know that in the face of the coronavirus pandemic many people are going to fall out of work, but re-training or improving your current skills is a great way of finding employment again quickly. Technology in particular offers new, exciting, and future-proof careers, and we want to make sure people have the help they need to move into the sector.
To enable residents to land jobs in the tech sector, the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) is improving digital skills throughout the region by funding further education and private providers’ training programmes and working with them to develop new courses.
Through the devolved £126m adult education budget, we are driving the region’s economic recovery by giving unemployed people and those in low-paid jobs the skills they need to start new careers in the region’s fastest growing sectors.
We are determined to tackle this historically poor skills gap so that we can increase overall employment and productivity, drive growth in key sectors, and achieve our wider economic and social priorities for the region.
And learners are benefiting from flexible training programmes that they can fit around their work and family life.
Last year, I launched a £5m ‘Beat the Bots’ fund for training providers to equip workers across the West Midlands with invaluable digital skills, preparing them for the jobs of the future.
The providers we are funding through ‘Beat the Bots’ include Birmingham-based School of Code, who are running their fourth free bootcamp this September to take 48 local people from scratch to professional developers.
The course is open to anyone, with a 50:50 gender split, age-range of 18-60, and demographics matching those of Birmingham.
No previous experience is required; the bootcamp takes a learner from novice to software developer in just 16 weeks before helping them find their first role in tech.
We work closely with the School of Code on the training – for example, we set the bootcampers two briefs midway through a previous course.
The employment rate for those who complete the bootcamp is 90 per cent, with employers confident that they will be hiring people who are capable and have the broad skillset needed to work in the tech industry.
Previous graduates from the bootcamp have successfully secured roles at The Economist, Bravissimo, Santander, and more.
I was very fortunate to meet Clare Streets, one of the first graduates, at the launch of our region’s employer-led Digital Skills Partnership last year.
Clare landed a new job as associate director at Birmingham software development firm B13 Technology shortly after completing the School of Code training. Before signing up to a bootcamp, she was doing low-paid work, such as cleaning houses, to fit around her family’s needs.
It’s vital that we equip other people like Clare with the skills they need to accelerate their careers, so that they too can realise their potential.
Training local people in digital skills is one of many initiatives being funded by the WMCA to help residents back into work following the Covid-19 lockdown.
Andy Street is mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority