Last week I attended an event at City College which brought together politicians, education providers and employers to share ideas, and to work with the college to create a new institute providing technology and arts education in Brighton. Here are my thoughts.
In December, Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey described the UK as a 'Tech Nation' - one of the most developed digital economies in the world - and noted that 70% of the businesses in our entrepreneurial economy are located outside of London. In Brighton alone we have 1,500 high-value tech companies: a billion-pound economy. Nick Juba's new leadership at City College, and its proposed reorganisation following government review, presents a really exciting opportunity for us to accelerate the development of digital skills and innovation in Brighton.
The Tech Partnership has been working nationally with educators and employers to create the skills for the digital economy. If Brighton can provide a Tech Industry Gold Apprenticeship, degree apprenticeship and Tech Industry Gold Degree, then we will really be pioneers in digital skill transformation, creating a technical workforce who can study, work and live in our brilliant city.
The ambition to succeed
At the event, Microsoft's Hugh Milward talked about a lack of ambition in UK tech companies and encouraged those of us in the audience to think big and work together to make Brighton the leading digital city in the UK. Brighton councillor, Tom Bewick, was certainly ambitious when he talked about doubling the value of the digital economy in the city, but workshop participants suggested that the council will need to do more than address the education of its young people if it wants to succeed.
Improving the city's transport infrastructure and the quality of commercial property must also be a priority to ensure that the city can accommodate employers of all sizes. The most recent Cities Outlook research shows that despite the already healthy digital economy in the city, many Brighton residents look elsewhere for higher-paid job opportunities. If the city-wide strategy addresses infrastructure alongside relevant digital innovation and skills, our residents will be empowered to join and expand our high-value digital economy.
Including technology partners in the city vision will allow Brighton to benefit from their investment and commitment to the digital economy. Cisco has committed $1 billion to accelerate the UK digital economy, has produced a blueprint for 'Country Digital Acceleration', and has a team working with central government towards using the power of technology to drive the UK economy and the capabilities of individuals and communities. It would be brilliant for Brighton to be part of that strategy, delivering competitive advantage to our city through the creation of jobs and growth.
What does this mean for local employers like Ideal?
We have been employing apprentices for the last five years, but have often been frustrated by the fragmented local training provision. I am delighted to have the opportunity to engage with the new institute to ensure relevant, high-quality technical training is available for apprentices and other young people in the city, providing a pipeline for our Academy.
I believe there is now a unique opportunity for key stakeholders to collaborate, combine ambitions, and ensure that Brighton remains a key player in our Tech Nation.