For the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), coalition membership brings the opportunity to cascade both the FutureDotNow messaging and model down to local businesses.
Louise Phipps, Senior Delivery Manager for Skills at WMCA told us: “In my role now, and in previous roles, I’ve witnessed the fear factor that some businesses feel when it comes to digital. I’ve had to support senior leaders to make tech decisions and I’ve seen how difficult it is for a CEO or a director to put their hand up and say, ‘Actually, I don’t know what the best decision is here’ or ‘I don’t understand this myself’. They’re frozen, afraid that taking action means they’re opening themselves up to failure, because they don’t know exactly what the problem is.
“FutureDotNow frames the conversation in a way that’s supportive, but recognises the issue, so that someone who’s struggling to find the answers they need can turn around and say, ‘You know what, that’s exactly relevant to my business, that’s the same issue that I have’.”
Next for Louise is making sure that wider industry in the West Midlands understands the hidden middle, and just how important Essential Digital Skills for Work are to their businesses.
“Within the combined authority, we do a lot of work around low-level digital inclusion and digital poverty, and we’re doing great work on higher levels skills through our relationships with the universities, but we’ve definitely identified the hidden middle as a gap. We do fund qualifications at that level, but we just don’t talk enough about the Essential Digital Skills gap.
“But after Clare Boden-Hatton, our Head of Skills Delivery spoke at the FutureDotNow Fest in May this year, we saw a real opportunity to do something similar regionally.
“In the same way that coalition members spoke at the Fest, we must leverage our regional Digital Skills Partnership Board, including the likes of Fujitsu, Microsoft and Cisco – organisations that really understand the benefits of all levels of digital skills. We can bring these large businesses together with smaller businesses, or those that aren’t as digitally savvy, to talk about the hidden middle, why it’s important to provide these skills, and how the authority can support them through the work that we fund.
“What we must see now, is a clear skills pipeline. We need to say to both businesses and skills providers that yes, basic skills are vital and yes, our universities are fantastic at higher level skills, but if we want people from our region to be able to progress from an entry level qualification to, for example, something at degree level, then people must know what that route looks like.”