Cllr. Mein visits Digital Advantage, the Digital Pop-Up Agency

Jennifer Mein, Leader of Lancashire County Council, visited Nelson and Colne College today to meet a group of young people who have just completed a ground-breaking programme called Digital Advantage.

Digital Advantage is a Pop-Up Digital Agency which offers 16 – 18 year olds 24 hours of work experience and training in specialist, practical digital skills with a further 24 hours of guided support. It is delivered by The White Room and supported by Digital Lancashire.

Participants get help to develop and plan their own digital business start-up. In the style of the BBC’s Dragons Den, they will pitch their digital product or service to an industry panel, with the best winning a £2,000 prize to support starting up a business.

Commenting on the visit, Jennifer Mein said: “It was inspiring to meet these young people and hear about how Digital Advantage has helped to give them the skills they need to thrive in today’s digital economy. As a member of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership’s board it’s exciting and rewarding to see how its investment in skills training is making a difference for young people across the county.”

Digital Advantage is a pilot project launched in Lancashire – as part of an innovative strategy to fuel growth in the county’s multi-million pound creative and digital economy. Digital Advantage is offering over 200 young people the kind of digital skills which are rarely taught in local schools and colleges but are highly-prized by local employers.

Morag Davis, Head of Creative and Digital at Nelson and Colne College, said: “We feel privileged to have taken part in this pioneering programme which is designed to equip Lancashire’s future stars with the vital skills needed to succeed in an increasingly digital landscape. We are a career college, and the programme has provided valuable work experience opportunities for our students to ready them for further education, an Apprenticeship or the world of work. It has also further enhanced the extensive creative and digital offering here at NCC which now includes Apprenticeships and Degree-level qualifications.”

Lucy-Marie Ibbotson, 17, Team Leader of NCC’s start-up Ubudg.it, said: “I’ve really enjoyed the programme. It has helped to develop my individual skills, work better in a team by pushing me to come out of my shell, and allowed me to meet new people. We’ve created an App which is for University students to help them budget their money and to help them enjoy a better life while at University.”

Simon Calderbank, from Big Knows, who has been working with the NCC students, said: “The power of this programme, aside from equipping the students with the required digital skills that loyal employers are crying out for, is its ability to empower them to truly showcase their potential in a realistic digital agency space.

“The real transformation of the Nelson and Colne College students throughout the duration of the four day programme into a working digital agency will live long. I’m humbled and it has been a privilege to have been involved. They are stars, every one of them!”

In addition to Nelson, the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership is also funding Digital Advantage in schools and colleges in Blackburn, Blackpool, Burnley, Chorley, Haslingden, Morecambe, Preston, Leyland and Skelmersdale.

Employers and industry experts from across the creative and digital sector in Lancashire are now being asked to lend their support though masterclasses, mentoring, sponsorship and to offer the Digital Advantage graduates job interviews for new apprentice positions.

The creative economy in Lancashire – which is dominated by digital, creative, software and computer science businesses – employees 36,000 people and is worth £1.3bn in GVA.

Yet 57 per cent of fast-growing businesses in a recent survey said they struggled to find technically capable staff with advanced IT or software skills. Provision of computer sciences at higher-education level also lags behind the national average.

The Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is investing in addressing this digital skills gap as part of its ambitious and comprehensive strategy to transform Lancashire’s economy over the next decade, creating 50,000 new jobs and driving economic growth.

Altogether, the LEP has invested £30m of capital to create hundreds of new training places in cutting-edge centres in order to provide the skilled workforce that employers in seven key economic sectors – such as the creative and digital economy – say they need for business growth.

Digital initiatives the LEP has supported include helping fund Edge Hill University’s new Technology Hub, which opened in October 2016 and includes the UK’s first super immersive 3D virtual environment in a university, and investing in the Microsoft Digital Academy at Accrington and Rossendale College, which launched in September 2016.

Industry experts including Dom Williams, formerly of Fat Media, Simon Calderbank from Big Knows, Anne Williamson from Lucrative Marketing, together with Ezra Rushen from The White Room, are helping teach students.

Lisa Moizer, the LEP’s Skills and Employment Hub Manager, said: “We already have many world class digital businesses here in Lancashire and there is huge growth potential in the sector.

“The pace of technological change makes it difficult for schools and colleges to keep up-to-date, so there aren’t enough people leaving education with the digital skills employers need.

“We are creating a pipeline of students and graduates with cutting-edge creative and digital skills and, at the same time, improving their employability and life chances. This a tremendously exciting time. Thanks to the LEP’s investment, we expect to see substantial growth in our digital and creative economy.

“Young people already taking part in Digital Advantage are enjoying it immensely and learning a huge amount. All we need now, is more industry leaders prepared to pass on their knowledge and offer interviews to the graduates of Digital Advantage. “

Andy Lovatt, founder and MD of The White Room, said: “Schools and colleges have really bought into the concept and the young people have come up with some great business ideas. There are some real stars in the making and Lancashire employers should already be thinking about how they get these talented young people into the workforce by creating apprentice positions.“

Stewart Townsend, MD of Digital Lancashire, said: “Digital Advantage will bring a skills advantage to businesses in Lancashire due to the nature of digital rapidly changing. They will now have access to 200 pupils with real time digital skills for the now economy, who can walk into any business and be an enhancement from day one.”

Digital industry leaders who want to help teach young people as part of Digital Advantage should contact Andy Lovatt at andy.lovatt@thewhiteroom.co  or on 07506 552 513

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