A pioneering Government scheme to boost digital skills has been launched in Lancashire.

The UK's first Digital Skills Partnership is being piloted by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in the county, in partnership with the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership’s Skills and Employment Hub.

Google, TSB and Lloyds have all agreed to give more support to digital skills training in Lancashire through the partnership. Google has committed to work with local partners to train 1,000 people and businesses through its Google Digital Garage programme.

The ground-breaking initiative was announced at the Lancashire Digital Skills Summit, at EKM's offices in Preston, at which some of Lancashire’s most high-profile businesses, charities and public bodies signed up to the partnership.

Around 100 people attended the summit, which was hosted by BusinessCloud editor Chris Maguire, and 43 key local partners signed up on the day, including three universities, colleges, schools, Digital Lancashire and Lancashire County Council.

The creative economy in Lancashire – which is dominated by digital, creative, software and computer science businesses - employees 36,000 people and is worth £1.3bn in GVA. However 57 per cent of fast-growing businesses in a survey said they experienced recruitment problems.

"We’ve seen first-hand the value the Digital Skills Partnership can bring at a national level, so we’re excited to be a part of the UK’s first local digital skills partnership," said Richard Keelty, head of Google Digital Garage.

"Working with our local partners and the Lancashire Digital Skills Partnership, the Google Digital Garage will provide free training to help people and businesses across Lancashire harness the power of the web to grow their skills, careers, and businesses. We encourage everyone, whatever your level of experience, to make the most of the free digital coaching on offer.”

The summit

Phil Smith, chair of Innovate UK and The Tech Partnership, added: "Lancashire is well placed to be at the vanguard of this programme."

Director of the Lancashire Skills and Employment Hub, Dr Michele Lawty-Jones, said: "We have worked with local partners to identify skills and employment opportunities across Lancashire and digital has been identified as a priority sector. 

Speaking to BusinessCloud afterwards LEP director Mike Blackburn OBE said: "The digital activity of an organisation – whether that’s how you connect with your customers or how you understand data – will affect every single business going forward.

“Unless we can understand that, and unless we have the right skills in our businesses, then actually we’ll have a lower productivity than if we can use digital to help increase productivity.”

Blackburn said the digital revolution has to be inclusive and embraced by everybody – not just the younger generation.

"Most people tend to focus their digital activity around young people, around incoming talent and skills at a young end," he said. "I think we need to also focus on those who are mature in our businesses.

"Eighty per cent of the people who will be working in 15 years' time have already left the educational system, so they’re already mature workers now and they’re going to be with us for the next five, 10 or 15 years so why wouldn’t we make sure they have the relevant digital skills for their job and for their future careers?”

Blackburn believes Lancashire has an abundance of digital and tech success stories but it needs to get better at communicating them.

"We’ve got the content and we've got the stories. I think Lancashire needs to communicate its offer generally, of which digital is one element of it," he said.

“You cannot isolate digital away from the offer of transport, away from housing, away from general talent and skills, because it’s about the offering of Lancashire.

"Lancashire is actually starting to be confident in communicating its stories and people outside the county will listen to those now and are starting to realise Lancashire has a huge amount to offer."

The summit was trending on Twitter with the hashtag #Lancsdigisummit  attracting more than 1.5 million impressions.