Leeds City Region: global digital centre in the making

Ensuring we meet the future skills demands of businesses and that people from all communities can have access to good quality employment is at the heart of our Strategic Economic Plan to transform the Leeds City Region economy.

We are already making good progress. We have now supported over 1,000 businesses to prepare for growth by finding the right training for their employees. We are creating employment and growth opportunities for young people and SMEs alike by providing support and grants to businesses that have not taken on an apprentice before. We are also helping businesses in all sectors develop the capabilities they need for an increasingly digital economy by helping them upskill their staff at all levels through match funded training in coding and software development and through our partnerships with the Google Digital Garage, Futurelabs and University Innovation and Enterprise Centres to access the latest digital technologies.

Nurturing the next generation of talent and entrepreneurialism is another priority. We have played a role in reducing youth unemployment faster than the national average through our locally delivered programmes which, since 2012, have achieved notably better outcomes than their national equivalents. We are helping young people make informed career choices and get the best possible footing on the job ladder by building strong links between schools and businesses, giving teachers, parents and young people an insight into the career opportunities available in exciting new industries.

One such industry where the City Region has exceptionally strong prospects for business and jobs growth is the digital and technology sector. Our recent research with the sector shows that around 8,500 firms in the City Region identify themselves as digital and technology businesses, employing around 70,000 people between them. Growth in the sector is booming thanks to significant investment from both the private and academic sectors including Sky’s rapid expansion in Leeds, the University of York‘s Quantum Technology Hub, and Bradford’s Digital Health Enterprise Zone – a partnership between University of Bradford, the Council, the government and BT to bring together the experts and search for excellence in helping to prevent and manage long term health issues.

At a time when the North’s digital economy is creating jobs at 10 times the rate of non-digital jobs, these strengths mean that Leeds City Region is ideally placed to take advantage of the phenomenal growth in the sector. Our ambition is to create an additional 15,000 digital jobs in Leeds City Region by 2025. A great number of these will be in what Tech North calls “non-digital industries” - companies that technically classify themselves as healthcare or professional services for example but have a number of employees working in digital roles. Digital skills and connectivity are now deemed essential in traditional industries too – according to the EEF 91% of manufacturers now rely on high-speed internet access, showing just how much of their business is now done online.

So what are we doing to realise our ambitions? Our newly-launched Employment and Skills Plan sets out how we will work with partners across the public and private sectors to improve higher level skills, create more and better apprenticeships, strengthen links between education and business and attract and retain talent to the City Region.
Among the measures currently in development are support for graduates from all disciplines to develop the technical skills they need for digital careers, new apprenticeship models which allow for the employers to have a say on what skills they need and want to develop, and proposals for a business-led University Technical College (UCT) to help 14-19 year olds develop specialist digital and tech skills. This is of course complemented by initiatives from employers themselves, such as the recent announcement from Amy de Balsi at Herd that her excellent Digital Careers Fair will run again in Leeds this year.
There is massive potential for growth in digital jobs in Leeds City Region and we will be working with businesses, councils, universities and colleges to make sure the region seizes this opportunity. Our ultimate aim is to make Leeds City Region known nationally and internationally as a global digital centre and a place where people can build a great and varied tech career – with the affordable, outstanding quality of life that our region provides.