Forming strong bonds in the tech sector

April 2, 2018

In a region with such strength in the digital and tech sector, much work is being done now to ensure the North East continues to thrive in years ahead. Deborah Busby meets Deni Chambers, director of The School of Creative and Digital Industries at Newcastle College, who explains its vital role in working alongside the business community to create a current and future workforce equipped with the skills to succeed

The North East is widely regarded as being one of the UK leaders in the field of digital innovation, but to keep ahead of the curve in such a fast-changing and innovative world requires ongoing development.

That development extends, not just to young people who will go on to work in many of the emerging and established digital and tech-based businesses in the North East and wider regions, but also to up-skilling employees and businesses, to ensure they remain at the top of their game and in a position to continue to grow the regional economy.

Within that structure, Newcastle College occupies a role at the very heart of digital development, working in line with the North East LEP priorities to help support skills training, particularly in STEM, and subsequent job creation.

As one of the region’s long-standing leading education providers, the college has come to the fore with its digital provision, working across the whole spectrum of age and abilities to support the continued progress of such a vital North East sector.

The college recently unveiled its new digital tech hub at its campus in central Newcastle, which is a facility equipped with the very latest technology, including over 450 PCs and Macs – is rightly proud of its commitment to working with industry and particularly in forming close partnerships with businesses to help solve the skills gaps both they and the wider sector face.

Indeed, the college – part of NCG, one of the leading education and training organisations in the UK – has partnered with some of the region’s biggest names, including Accenture and Space Group, to pioneer such projects and to look at means of supporting both them and their wider specialisms to develop and thrive.

Deni Chambers, director of creative and digital industries at Newcastle College, is a passionate champion of the North East’s digital sector and the skills within it. A board member of Dynamo – the group tasked with growing the region’s tech economy – she is a keen advocate of engaging people of all ages and instilling the transferable skills that are needed to support the region’s digital economy.

She says: “I believe that education is a lifelong journey; a young person can come to us at 16, pursue their studies through to a degree, then step out into employment returning further down the road to upskill to continue their career development or even change direction in order to fulfil a lifelong aspiration.

“The important thing is to be flexible and offer a range of options, be it full time, short courses, distance learning – we understand the different commitments and circumstances people have and we will work with them to help remove any barriers to learning.

“I see the flexibility we offer as being a big USP for us and essentially that is something we need to do to help develop skills – particularly transferable skills, which can play such an important role in so many different areas – and ultimately support the economic growth of the region.”

Deni continues: “Working with businesses is vital and I see that as part of our corporate social responsibility. We have a definite role to play in supporting economic development and by working with employers, we can help to solve the problems that may exist now or in the future with skills and we are very passionate about doing so. We do everything we possibly can to help come up with solutions, we don’t just say no if there no immediate solution. We can create something from nothing, something meaningful in response to a specific issue.”

Indeed, the college has a reputation as being a solutions provider, devising bespoke solutions if a course or programme does not already exist, as well as being able to help with CPD issues. One North East company approached the college as it wanted to pitch for some new business in the field of Cinema 4D, a field in which it had very limited expertise. A short course and a matter of weeks later, the business in question had upskilled and duly won the work.

As part of its work with Accenture, the college has created a range of higher level and degree apprenticeship programmes and previously, a pre-assessment boot camp for apprenticeships – all developed in close partnership with Accenture, and the company and now working to great effect.

Space Group was also keen to develop a programme to help support the growth of Building Information Modelling (BIM), for which it is becoming known on a global scale.

“With Space’s growing dominance in BIM, the group found it had a problem in that there weren’t enough people coming through with the necessary skill set and also that a lot of people weren’t seeing construction as an industry for them – I think it is still seen by some as just being on a building site, whereas now there are so many options for digital careers working in construction and the built environment,” says Deni, who has been with the college for 15 years, working her way through the ranks to her current director post.

“So we worked with them to develop a short course, initially for 16 to 19-year-olds, who are not in employment or training in this area. We are excited about the prospects of this and it helps to show what we can do to support employers with specific skills and development issues they may have.”

Following completion of the course, Deni goes on to reveal, attendees are guaranteed a place to study a further course, or the college will help them to find an apprenticeship.

Deni, a mother of two children – the oldest of whom is debating a career as either a ninja or an engineer/creative – is a passionate advocate of championing people to achieve not only their potential but to fulfil their dreams too.

“When we prospective students initial advice and guidance , we ask what their aspirations are, what’s the dream at the end of it all? It’s about finding out what the goal is and working backwards from that, to see how we can help people achieve it.

“Likewise in working with businesses, we establish what the goal is and what the challenges are and then we tailor our curriculum around that. It’s exciting for us to be able to create something that maybe doesn’t exist yet,” she says.

“But saying that, this isn’t always something that happens over months, we are able to respond and turn things into reality very quickly. In an industry like this, something you have a meeting about last week might already be out of date by now, so we are able to move fast to make things happen.

“Our goal is to support people in progressing, developing their skills at whatever stage of their education, career or life they may be at, and equally to work with industry to develop solutions and to create new opportunities. If something doesn’t exist yet, we can help to introduce it – finding solutions to help the economic growth of the region is what we are committed to achieving.”

Newcastle College