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The University of Birmingham, PwC and Tech She Can have been joined by Ahead Partnership and Digital Innovators to deliver the pioneering Birmingham Digital Futures (BDF) Innovation District, aimed at addressing the digital skills gap in the West Midlands.

The BDF Innovation District builds on a successful first year of activity in primary and secondary schools. It will provide skills development programmes that cater to learners at all life stages: primary, secondary, further education (FE), higher education (HE), NEET, and re/upskilling for the existing workforce. The partnership, with educators and the private sector, will foster the growth of the regional digital skills eco-system, ensuring an integrated offer and seamless transition between each stage.

Closing the skills gap could boost UK GDP by £87bn by 2030, and the West Midlands is poised to create 52,000 additional digital roles by 2025. Yet regional business leaders have concerns over persistent gaps in key areas such as programming, knowledge of emerging technologies, and advanced statistics. The BDF Innovation District aims to provide a platform for the development of the next generation of digital skills to fill this gap, helping to boost the region’s economy and competitiveness.

Our ambition is to create a world-class digital skills ecosystem that draws on our research and teaching excellence, and aligns with regional and national skills policies, while also serving our civic mission of improving the lives of people in the region.

Professor Adam Tickell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham

“The University of Birmingham is proud to be at the forefront of addressing the digital skills gap in the West Midlands,” said Professor Adam Tickell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham. “Our ambition is to create a world-class digital skills ecosystem that draws on our research and teaching excellence, and aligns with regional and national skills policies, while also serving our civic mission of improving the lives of people in the region.”

Victoria Pargetter, Associate Director of Business Engagement & Research Impact, leads the BDF Innovation District for the University of Birmingham. She said: “We're thrilled to be spearheading this with our partners, which we believe will have a significant impact on addressing socioeconomic barriers to accessing digital skills. Our goal is to bring together local businesses, government bodies, and the University of Birmingham to co-design, co-deliver and co-diffuse innovative methods for skills development that are open to all.”

“The BDF Innovation District aligns perfectly with our focus on the future of work and the critical role that digital skills will play in the West Midlands,“ said Matt Hammond, Senior Partner, PwC, and Chair of the West Midlands Growth Company. ”We're looking forward to working with the University of Birmingham, Tech She Can and our local partners to inspire the next generation of tech leaders and innovators.“

The BDF Innovation District marks a ground-breaking shift in the approach to skills programmes. By unifying leaders from education, industry and policy, cutting-edge skills initiatives can be devised, evaluated and optimised to guarantee ongoing impact and advancement. The BDF Innovation District will align with established regional innovation assets to realise cost efficiencies in fostering digital skills for the green economy, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing through respective partnerships with the Tyseley Energy Park, Birmingham Health Innovation Campus (BHIC), and the Manufacturing Technology Centre.

“We are delighted to partner with organisations that share our ambition to close the digital skills gap in the West Midlands through long-term engagement and collaboration,” said Stephanie Burras, Chief Executive Officer at Ahead Partnership. “We’re looking forward to collaborating on co-designed projects that deliver impact and increase awareness and aspirations of digital skills for young people in the West Midlands.”

Sheridan Ash, co-CEO of Tech She Can said; “Imagine a world where every child is ignited with the passion and knowledge to shape the incredible jobs of tomorrow. Our mission is crystal clear: to spark their curiosity and fascination with technology and its brilliant creators right from the start. We're on a journey to build a tech workforce that reflects our diverse society, ensuring technology works for everyone. Teaming up with our partners BDF will not only inspire students across the West Midlands, together we'll also help them to explore the world of technology that will shape careers, transform lives and unlock potential.”

“Raising the aspirations of young people is an essential step in helping to define future careers.” Mick Westman, Founder and CEO Digital Innovators said: “We are excited at the opportunity to work with Birmingham Digital Futures and partners to create a continuum from the youngest children in school to young adults entering employment.

The BDF Innovation District will provide a platform for the development of digital skills through a range of activities, including training and development programmes, research initiatives, and collaborations with local businesses and government bodies. With support from local businesses and policy actors, the BDF Innovation District will work to bridge the digital skills gap in the West Midlands and help position the region as a leader in the digital economy.