Is your Lancashire business short of specialist digital skills? Here's how you could plug the gap...

The fund is designed to give people specialist skills to work in the digital sector or in digital roles in other industries
The fund is designed to give people specialist skills to work in the digital sector or in digital roles in other industries
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Lancashire businesses and education providers are being urged to bid for government cash designed to bridge the gap in specialist digital skills in the county.

The £3m Fast-Track Digital Workforce Fund is being shared with Greater Manchester – but out of the 21 bids submitted in the first round of applications, just five came from Lancashire.

A second bidding window will open next month and the county’s employers and colleges are being invited to come up with ways of training people for hard-to-fill roles in the digital sector – or digital jobs which cut across different industries.

The money must be used to spread specialist digital knowledge – such as software development, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence – and not basic digital skills.

Dr Michele Lawty-Jones, director of the Lancashire skills hub, told a meeting of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership's skills board that she was “a tad disappointed” with the interest shown by Lancashire so far – but suggested that the summer launch of the scheme might not have been a good time to engage with businesses and education providers.

“We know that people have ideas – and [this fund] is very much about people coming together and looking at creative ways of filling the digital skills gaps. It doesn’t have to be accredited – it could be boot camp approach,” she explained.

Cohorts of trainees could include people who are new to the digital sector or those who have a low-level digital role and want to increase their skills. People who have specialist qualifications but are currently underemployed would also be eligible.

Bids can range from £50,000 to £250,000 and are likely to require an element of match-funding – whether in cash or kind. Courses can run for a maximum of 12 weeks full-time or 20 weeks part-time.

Digital skills partnership co-ordinator, Kerry Harrison, urged any organisations which would like to be involved to express their interest ahead of the next wave of bids opening on 18th November.

“The best bids we have seen started with an employer who had jobs they couldn’t fill and then a provider talking to them about employability, confidence-building and technical skills – and putting it together in a package.

“Some people who [applied in the first round] haven’t written bids before – and have been innovative in the way they have approached it,” she added.

Successful applicants from the first wave of bids are likely to be informed later this week, with those from the next wave being advised by mid-February.

Central Lancashire has the greatest number of digital business in the county at 840. But Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre boast the largest digital sector as a proportion of the overall economy – 6.7 per cent.

Anybody interested in applying to the fund should email: LancsSkillsHub@lancashirelep.co.uk