Dan Pritchard: skilling the region with Microsoft

Dan Pritchard is the co-founder of Tech South West and CEO of Program

There’s something stirring in the South West economy.

From Falmouth to Frome, Truro to Taunton, and Camborne to Cheltenham, the region is revving up its engines with disruptive startups, fast-growing scaleups, and founders on a mission to change the world.

After steering a path of resilience through the headwinds of Covid, the region’s fastest-growing sector is putting pedal to the metal and accelerating to an expected GVA of £20bn a year by 2026, creating 125,000 new jobs in the process.

We’re delighted to be working with Microsoft to help the sector get there.

Fuel for the engine

From the UK’s first satellite launch to the development of sustainable aviation, world-leading environmental science research and green energy, the South West is playing an outsized role in the advancement of UK technology innovation and growth.

Increasingly, tech is the engine of the South West economy. But engines need fuel, and that fuel is skills.

Already, the region is churning out a disproportionate number of tech-ready graduates compared to other UK regions. Of the 170,000 university-level students in the South West, 11% are studying Engineering or Technology related courses – a proportion that is almost 40% higher than the UK average.

However, demand continues to outrun supply, creating an obstacle that will loom ever larger as the sector continues its remarkable rate of growth. Between 2020 and 2021 alone, average tech salaries in the region grew 4.5% as companies battled to retain and attract top talent.

So, what’s the solution?

Clearly there is no silver bullet. But research – and our conversations with companies from across the sector – indicate the need for increased provision of skills in the region, not only for young people but for adults and career-switchers too.

Research conducted by Tech South West in 2021 revealed that “lack of candidates” is the most significant barrier to growth facing the region’s tech companies, with 55% of organisations citing it as their main recruitment challenge.

Over half of companies surveyed listed “candidates lacking required experience” and “candidates lacking required skills” among their top three barriers to growth.

The report, which can be downloaded from the Tech South West website, reveals that technical skills such as data science (49%), web development (37%) and machine learning (34%) remain in high demand for tech companies.

Upskilling teams

Discussion of talent strategies often focus on growing the talent pool of potential hires. But upskilling existing teams remains a crucial element.

The collaboration between Tech South West and Microsoft will deliver targeted training for SMEs to enhance their teams’ skillsets in areas including cloud computing, Power BI, leveraging Microsoft Teams, getting the most from Excel, and using Microsoft Outlook.

In addition, Firebrand Training – one of Microsoft’s largest training partners – will provide training in Microsoft Azure Fundamentals (AZ-900), with free accreditation for Tech South West members.

This collaboration will advance the work of Tech South West as we boost digital skills and inward investment into the region, and support Microsoft’s campaign to help 1.5 million people launch a career in tech.

How can you get involved?

Companies can take advantage of the collaboration by signing up to the free training events listed on the Tech South website, beginning with “Device management with Microsoft Intune” on October 31. Intune is a cloud-based service that helps you control how your organisation’s devices are used, including mobile phones, tablets and laptops. 

Tech South West members are also invited to take a free learning needs analysis assessment with Firebrand, through which the global training provider will work with you on understanding your current capability, your upcoming business projects/growth plans and where the skills gaps lie.

Alongside the training provision, Microsoft are supporting the Tech South West StartUp and ScaleUp Studio accelerators, which provide accessible growth support for early stage companies in the region. Microsoft joins our other Growth Partners Bishop Fleming, British Business Bank, Program, King Recruit and Skowt Consulting to support the accelerators. 

Collaboration is the region’s greatest strength. As the sector continues to grow, bolstered by vibrant tech hubs and clusters such as Software Cornwall, Tech Exeter, Digital Plymouth, EPIC Torbay, Plymouth Science Park, Digital Somerset, TechSPARK, Cheltenham’s CyNam network, Future Space, Launchpad and Engine Shed, we are delighted to be building new relationships across the ecosystem and enhancing our support for outstanding tech companies.

Go to techsouthwest.co.uk/working-with-microsoft to learn more about the collaboration, how to get involved, and to see all upcoming training opportunities.

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