Bridging the West Midlands' Digital Skills Gap: A Roadmap Towards a Digital Skills Innovation District

This project will form the first phase of a longer-term ambition to establish a Digital Skills Innovation District

Current UK predictions show a national digital skills shortfall of five million workers by 2030. By 2040, the West Midlands is expected to see a 40% drop in manufacturing employment and increased demand (>20% growth) for professional, scientific, and technical skills across a range of sectors. Aggressive upskilling and re-skilling are needed to meet the demands of firms as they transition to new business models. 

At the University of Birmingham, there has been significant recent uplift in industry engagement in the Social Sciences from regional firms seeking solutions to this digital skills gap. An initiative spearheaded by the College of Social Sciences Business Engagement with PwC, HSBC UK, and the charity Tech She Can to develop classroom materials that inspire schoolchildren to think differently about the future of technology, demonstrates the appetite across regional organisations to work collaboratively to meet this challenge head on. However, meaningful and sustainable growth will require continuing development of novel innovative methods to enhance digital skills R&D, requiring largescale long-term investment from multiple stakeholder groups. What is lacking is the evidence base needed to unlock this investment, which this proposal seeks to address.


Skills and Local Labour Markets

Research England Quality Research Funding


This project will form the first phase of a longer-term ambition to establish a Digital Skills Innovation District by identifying routes for collaboration and exchange with businesses, third sector organisations and government. To achieve this overarching aim, our research objectives are to:

      1. Gather insights of best practices used elsewhere (e.g. Innovation Districts are prevalent in the UK North and South, but absent throughout the Midlands) and share these within the organisation, and amongst regional partners interested in collaborative R&D investment.
      2. Test the hypothesis that a digital skills focus would lead to long-term investment (in terms of time and money) from industry towards collaborative, university-led R&D.
      3. Recommend innovative models and methodologies for participatory research which will lead to future funding applications and/or ongoing partnerships.

Research Questions

      1. What examples are there of similar initiatives elsewhere, and what can we learn from them?
      2. Is the digital skills agenda the right focus to ensure sustained, long-term participatory research, and what are the levers for ensuring R&D collaboration across disparate stakeholder groups?
      3. What role might the University play in driving this agenda forward?
      4. What level of investment would be needed, and how would this be unlocked?

Research Team

Professor Anne Green – Project Co-Director, City-REDI / WMREDI

James Sharp – Project Co-Director

Victoria Pargetter - Deputy Director of Business Engagement, The University of Birmingham

Dr Abigail Taylor – Research Fellow, City-REDI / WMREDI


Project lead contact details: 

Anne Green, Professor of Regional Economic Development, City-REDI / WMREDI

James Sharp, Business Engagement Partner, College of Social Sciences

Project support contact details: 

Project Support contact details:

Matthew Patterson, Centre Manager, City-REDI / WMREDI

WMREDI is funded by Research England and the WMREDI partnership

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