Proto partnership powers tech revolution

July 19, 2019

In a business world where digital technology is continuously driving change, how do you manage this and find the skilled people you need to remain competitive? Leading players in the region are combining strengths to help businesses address these challenges

Few businesses, regionally or nationally, can ever stand still. These days, owner-managers and their staff are continually having to adapt, adopt new technologies and learn new skills.

“We’re catering for a workforce that doesn’texist yet,” says Deni Chambers, an assistant principal at Gateshead College.

“Technology is moving at such a rapid rate that businesses themselves don’t even know what skills they’ll need in five years’ time. That’s the big challenge for us, our partners and the business community.”

The North East is no stranger to change and innovation, and Gateshead College is grasping the opportunity; it recently became the official education partner of PROTO, a research and development facility – established by Gateshead Council – which opened its doors last year and is the first of its kind in Europe.

This unique partnership aims to develop a new pipeline of digital skills, create commercial opportunities for local firms, drive inward investment and economic growth, and retain the brightest minds in the region.

Deni, leader of the digital tech curriculum area at Gateshead College, explains: “We’re working with industry to predict future trends and work out how technology can be applied in different commercial settings. That’s why our courses are always evolving and constantly being adapted to meet the changing needs of industry.”

PROTO houses a wide range of impressive digital equipment that includes a photogrammetry rig with 120 cameras that can capture 3D objects from every angle – ideal for a manufacturer who wants to trial a new product. The facilities certainly made a positive impression on Education Secretary Damian Hinds, who visited PROTO and Gateshead College on a recent fact-finding mission in the region.

Chris Pape, portfolio manager at the council, says: “Our aim, naturally, is to attract more businesses to the area and promote Gateshead as a great place to live and do business. Both the council and the college share a common goal of wanting to develop digital companies and encourage young entrepreneurs to start a business here. To do that we need the right people with the right skills, and that’s where Gateshead College comes in.”

Tapping into the knowledge and expertise within both PROTO and the college, a new groundbreaking course has been developed to give companies and individuals a valuable insight into the world of emerging technologies, such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI). The two-year course will give students the chance to test how these technologies can be applied in the commercial sphere, not just in digital companies but across other sectors too.

In developing the course, part of the challenge was working out what skills businesses will need in a few years’ time.

Deni says: “We’ve set out a schedule for the first year of our course, but we’ve built in a lot of flexibility in year two; by then, businesses might need skills that we haven’t identified yet. The key for us is to be close enough to local companies to understand what they’re going through, to react quickly to any change in their circumstances so they have the right skills at their disposal at any given time.”

The course content is just one part of the jigsaw. The college and council are both keen to ensure that businesses have access to the latest cutting-edge equipment.

“Kit like this is usually pretty expensive so it’s great that businesses can use it as and when they want to at a low cost,” says Chris. “This allows start-ups and small firms to test and trial new concepts, explore digital solutions that might help their business without having to spend money unnecessarily.”

Deni adds: “Together with the council, we want to ensure that the North East is a trailblazer for digital technology. We don’t just want to help digital businesses like games companies; we want to help all sorts of innovative businesses, including those who wouldn’t usually be associated with digital tech.”

The council is busy identifying opportunities to create additional facilities for local firms, including an extra 50,000sq ft of Grade A office space on Baltic Quarter right next door to PROTO. The idea is that some of the businesses currently based there will expand into larger premises as they grow and take on extra staff.

“We’d like to think we’re a proactive council and it’s great that Gateshead College matches our ambition,” says Chris. “We both offer different things but we’re a part of the same story. Our end goal is to drive the growth of local businesses and we’re well-placed to do just that.”

Gateshead College

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