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SELEP launches new partnership to meet digital skills challenge in the South East

A new Digital Skills Partnership (DSP) bringing together businesses, with education, public sector organisations and the charitable sector to design a world leading digital economy that ensures the need for these vital skills is met across the South East, has been officially launched.

The South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) has been chosen as a new pilot for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) Local Digital Skills Partnership (DSP). It will coordinate the DSP, acting as a link between the Government’s DCM) and corporate partners including Google, IBM and local digital SMEs to help support residents and businesses across the area.

The partnership will build on existing innovation and experience in the SELEP area, particularly in virtual reality and online learning, to enable education in areas which experience barriers to technology and employment, such as rural locations and prisons.

The new DSP was launched at an event held at the historic St Mary in the Castle, Hastings, and included an introduction by Margot James Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, and a keynote address by Michaela Neild, External Affairs Manager of Google UK.

The Minister said: “We are working hard to build a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone. Through the newly formed South East Local Digital Skills Partnership we will empower regional businesses, educators, charities and public sector to come together to boost skills and the local economy.”

Opening the event, Christian Brodie, Chair of SELEP, said: “Our skills strategy sets out our ambitions to be involved in the Digital Skills Partnership work. We’re thrilled therefore to be delivering against this as a pilot area.

“The South East LEP recognises the importance of working collaboratively with Government to tackle the digital skills challenges in the region. Not only does DCMS provide grant funding to appoint a local DSP regional coordinator, they also fast track introductions and discussions with national industry partners wishing to support, along with other policy areas within DCMS and other Government departments that may have pockets of funding targeting digital skills provision.

“The prospect of joining up all of the great digital skills work already happening with national support, both from corporate organisations and across Government, is exciting and has the potential to create innovative programmes that will provide the greatest impact.”

SELEP’s skills strategy has identified a growing need for digital skills, with business growth being held back, vacancy numbers remaining high and many companies struggling to recruit and retain digitally-focused staff.

In the last calendar year it was reported that there were more than 35,000 digital vacancies, including web and software developers, programmers and coders across the SELEP area which covers Kent, Essex, East Sussex, Medway, Southend and Thurrock.

Delivering the keynote address, Michaela Neild, External Affairs Manager of Google UK, outlined the importance of digital and Google’s commitment to making technology and the web work for everyone through the potential for the internet as a powerful equaliser.

She outlined that this is best achieved through flexible and tailored training and formally announced Google’s exciting commitment to five Google Digital Garages across the SELEP area.

These will cover a range of offers from support with getting online for the first time, to coding and building a website. SELEP’s DSP will work with Google to deliver these in partnership in the coming year.

Other speakers included representatives of East Sussex College, South Essex College and Plumpton College.

The South East DSP will feed into SELEP’s Local Industrial Strategy and its objectives are integral to its recently published Economic Strategy Statement: Smarter, Faster, Together.

Photo shows Michaela Neild of GoogleUK at the launch of the new Digital Skills Partnership.