Transforming the digital economy in the West Midlands with the WMCA
The West Midlands is the largest regional economy in the UK, with a young and diverse population, exceptional connectivity and strong industrial bases in the advanced manufacturing and digital sectors. Jaguar Land Rover, Cadbury and Marston’s are amongst the household names based in the region. The combined authority, or WMCA, brings together seven constituent councils, including Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton, to shape and deliver strategic change for the region.
In 2019 an important mismatch was identified within skills and employment in the West Midlands. Whilst the region had the fastest growing digital sector, outside of London, and ambitious growth plans, the skills that digital companies needed were not being met within the region’s talent pool.
This wasn’t for lack of related courses and qualifications, which had been proliferating, but candidates were graduating these courses and often still not meeting employers’ expectations. And the region was grappling with broader unemployment challenges: fewer people in the West-Midlands are qualified to Level 4 and above than in other parts of the country, for example.
In response to these challenges, the WMCA released funding for digital skills training and Spectra were selected as a delivery agent, launching a bespoke initiative called Digital Upgrade. In partnering with the WMCA our goal was two-fold. First, we wanted to train people – from a range of groups that are underrepresented in the workforce – who live in the West Midlands and have the potential to occupy high-skilled jobs in the West Midlands. Second, we wanted to ensure that our trainees had highly relevant digital skills – for the industries of the future – and that they were emotionally ready to take on challenging work.
We designed a training programme for four key cohorts (care leavers, young people at risk of redundancy, unemployed and underemployed) and, crucially, we asked employers to input into the training curriculum so that their desired skills were central to the training that trainees would receive.
Currently at the beginning of our pilot phase, we are training a diverse group of young people in cyber-security, as well as valuable employability skills. Our first group of trainees will graduate in August 2020, when we will have another group of trainees starting.