‘Investment in digital skills is crucial’, says Leeds professor

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INvestment in the future workforce is crucial in addressing the UK’s digital skills crisis, the director of The Leeds Institute for Data Analytics (LIDA) says.

According to the UK Digital Strategy the country needs another 745,000 workers with digital skills, with the gap costing the economy £63bn every year.

The Leeds Digital Skills Action Plan identifies 1,350 digital companies in the city employing more than 10,000 people with 640 vacancies for mid-level tech jobs.

But Professor Mark Birkin, who is based at the University of Leeds, argues that the need becomes more acute “higher up the value chain”.

He said: “Most organisations I meet are anxious to recruit data scientists and to see the development of new courses which develop relevant skills. This university has started seven new programmes in data science over the last couple of years.

“Taking a step back, data is now all around us. For example it is generated by mobile phones, smart meters, loyalty cards, manufacturing processes, including robotics, health care devices and process etc. This trend is accelerating rapidly, so basically data is fundamentally important to government and business, so it is not surprising that we need greater capacity for exploitation in all walks of life.”

Professor Birkin’s comments come following the announcement that Leeds City College is relocating its digital technologies provision to the Printworks campus in the heart of the South Bank district.

From September, business, information technology and computer science courses will be based at the £10m newly-refurbished final phase of the campus, on Hunslet Road, that is currently under construction.

The college is working closely with the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to meet the needs of the city and contribute to a future workforce that bridges the skills gap. Students will benefit from studying in a business-style environment that incorporates a master lecture space with dedicated networking labs. The flexibility of classrooms will mean that students can study in independent learning zones, fully equipped with the latest digital technology.

Julie Best, head of computer science at Leeds City College, said: “The new facilities at the Printworks Campus have been designed to meet industry standards and provide students with a simulated real life working environment.

“Our courses aim to equip the next generation of programmers, software developers and IT technicians with the skills they need for a prosperous future.”

Leeds City College has received almost £9m through the LEP growth deal – a £1 billion package of government investment to accelerate growth and create jobs across Leeds City Region.

Welcoming the move, Professor Birkin said: “It is clear there is a deficit in digital and data science at local, regional and national levels. The more we can address this then the more successful we will be in terms of economic development and inward investment. Leeds is well-positioned and would like to grow its reputation as a ‘data city’ on the international stage, building especially on established clusters in digital health, creative, media and financial technology. Investment in skills is crucial in pushing this forward for our people, our businesses and our institutions.”

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