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Educational partnership between Norfolk and Suffolk looks to solve the regions digital skills gap

News overview

Seven educational establishments from Norfolk and Suffolk have united to look at ways of closing skills gaps in digital industries across the region.

A key highlight of the project saw the launch of a Digital Futures Conference held at The Hold in Ipswich.

This occasion saw education, skills and business experts hear top talks from leading practitioners in education and the digital industries.

Suffolk New College organised the Conference working alongside colleagues at City College Norwich, the College of West Anglia, East Coast College, and West Suffolk College, together with East Norfolk Sixth Form College and the University of Suffolk.

Emma Taylor, Alan Pease, Lee Nevill, Demetrious Symeou, Andrew Wheeler, Jo Butcher, and Stephen Frampton

This event is one of many events and projects taking place thanks to the Local Skills Improvement Fund (LSIF) that created a £4.7m windfall for this group last year.

The cash is being used to invest in facilities and support teaching and learning, whilst also helping equip the students of tomorrow with the skills they need to be successful whilst working in the region’s key sectors, including the digital sector and in green skills roles.  The project also trains staff within education to get a better understanding of how technology can transform learning.

Work is also being carried out with businesses in the East to get a further understanding of their future workforce needs.

Alan Pease, the CEO and Principal of Suffolk New College opened the event by welcoming over 90 delegates to this occasion before handing over to the chair, Stephen Frampton.

Suffolk New College CEO and Principal Alan Pease

Stephen is the former president of the Association of Colleges (AoC) and the founder of SF4FE – a not for profit student awards organisation that specialises in sustainability.

Stephen said: “This conference has brought together artificial intelligence and sustainability and builds on the work that was achieved last year by this dynamic group of educational establishments that culminated in a national AoC Beacon Award for Sustainability for Suffolk New College. The future is green skills and digital skills so the conference and ongoing project is all based around equipping staff, learners, and communities with the tools to ensure businesses have a workforce in place that meets their needs.”

One of the key organisers of this event is Emma Taylor, the Director of Business Development and Major Projects at Suffolk New College.

Emma said: “It is fantastic that we have been given this funding from the Department for Education to collaborate and bring people together in this way. 

Emma Taylor from Suffolk New College

“This conference builds on the work we did together in 2023 when we held a green skills conference with the same partners that has accelerated teaching and investment in green skills training. 

“It was brilliant to be able to bring together all the FE and HE partners in the LSIF project as well as key stakeholders from industry and the wider skills and training sector.  We are looking forward to showcasing other investments from the funding over the next year and highlighting the benefits to thousands of learners.”

Andrew Wheeler is the Executive Director of Curriculum Initiatives for the Eastern Education Group. Andrew said: “It’s important to continue the work that we started via the previous (green skills) partnership and this new funding has given us a great opportunity to collaborate further. The conference was really exciting with lots of innovative ideas.  This is a great example of colleges working together to create an ever closer union between ourselves and how we operate.”

Jo Butcher is Head of Projects at City College Norwich. “It’s been inspirational and given lots of ideas about the future and where we need to direct our thoughts and resources.  Digital technology is moving at a fast pace.  We need to evaluate the benefits it can bring to teaching, learning, and careers – events like this are a massive help. It’s been very insightful and motivational.”

Jo Butcher from City College Norwich

Dean Pierpoint is the Local Skills and Improvement Project (LSIP) Plan Manager. Dean explained how this all came together. He said: “Employers provide evidence on what is needed in terms of skills development in the region. We then evaluate what they say and find the best people to action skills needs. As a result of this, Suffolk New College are overseeing this LSIF funded partnership with other educational establishments in Suffolk and Norfolk to create a number of projects based around agri-tech, digital, green and soft skills. Ultimately this will create a closer relationship between business and education and ensure that skills gaps are closed. I believe that this is the start of a new way of working and thinking and sets a platform for more collaborative working in the future.”

Sara Hinchliffe is the Skills and Training Officer for Suffolk Chamber of Commerce with responsibility for LSIP employer engagement.  Sara said; “This project aims to meet future skills needs that will in turn support all business sectors within this region. It’s exciting to see the partnership grow.”

Sarah Hichliffe and David Pierpoint from Norfolk Chamber of Commerce

Lee Nevill is the Teaching and Learning Manager at East Coast College. Lee said: This is helping drive our digital strategy. Working together works and I’m proud of what is being achieved.”

Lee Nevill from East Coast College

Professor Gurpreet Jagpal, Pro Vice-Chancellor Business and Entrepreneurship at the University of Suffolk said: “Employers are increasingly looking for green and digital skills, so it is incredibly important our courses and development opportunities help equip learners with these skills to be job-ready upon graduating. This partnership will help join up the work between our region’s education providers and businesses, and we look forward to seeing the projects that come out of the LSIF support learners even further.”

East Norfolk Sixth Form College Principal, Dr Catherine Richards said, “East Norfolk is proud to be part of this growing and very important partnership. The events taking place are crucial in terms of raising awareness of future workforce needs in relation to digital skills and how we as education providers can support the delivery of those skills.

“The additional investment coming to the College will also allow us to make a significant contribution to meeting the technology and learning skills needed by future students from across Norfolk and Suffolk.”

Posted 19 March 2024