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Educational partners including West Suffolk College and University of Suffolk come together to share ideas on boosting digital skills in the East





Seven educational establishments from Suffolk and Norfolk have united to look at ways of closing skills gaps in digital industries across the region.

A highlight of the project was a Digital Futures Conference organised by Suffolk New College working alongside colleagues at City College Norwich, the College of West Anglia, East Coast College, and West Suffolk College, based in Bury St Edmunds, together with East Norfolk Sixth Form College and the University of Suffolk.

The event, at The Hold in Ipswich, saw education, skills and business experts hear top talks from leading practitioners in education and the digital industries.

Emma Taylor, Alan Pease, Lee Nevill, Demetrious Symeou, Andrew Wheeler, Jo Butcher and Stephen Frampton at the Digital Futures Conference. Picture: PAGEPIX
Emma Taylor, Alan Pease, Lee Nevill, Demetrious Symeou, Andrew Wheeler, Jo Butcher and Stephen Frampton at the Digital Futures Conference. Picture: PAGEPIX

It is one of many events and projects taking place thanks to the Local Skills Improvement Fund (LSIF) that created a £4.7 million windfall for this group last year.

The cash is being used to invest in facilities and support teaching and learning, whilst also helping equip the students of tomorrow with the skills they need to be successful whilst working in the region’s key sectors, including the digital sector and in green skills roles.

The project also trains staff within education to get a better understanding of how technology can transform learning.

Emma Taylor from Suffolk New College helped put the conference together. Picture: Suffolk New College
Emma Taylor from Suffolk New College helped put the conference together. Picture: Suffolk New College

Work is also being carried out with businesses in the East to get a further understanding of their future workforce needs.

Alan Pease, the CEO and principal of Suffolk New College, opened the event by welcoming over 90 delegates before handing over to the chair Stephen Frampton.

Mr Frampton is the former president of the Association of Colleges (AoC) and the founder of SF4FE – a not for profit student awards organisation that specialises in sustainability.

He said: “This conference has brought together artificial intelligence and sustainability and builds on the work that was achieved last year by this dynamic group of educational establishments that culminated in a national AoC Beacon Award for Sustainability for Suffolk New College.

“The future is green skills and digital skills so the conference and ongoing project is all based around equipping staff, learners and communities with the tools to ensure businesses have a workforce in place that meets their needs.”

Emma Taylor, a key organiser of this event and director of business development and major projects at Suffolk New College, said: “It is fantastic that we have been given this funding from the Department for Education to collaborate and bring people together in this way.

Andrew Wheeler from Eastern Education Group - a partner of this project. Picture: Suffolk New College
Andrew Wheeler from Eastern Education Group - a partner of this project. Picture: Suffolk New College

“This conference builds on the work we did together in 2023 when we held a green skills conference with the same partners that has accelerated teaching and investment in green skills training.

“It was brilliant to be able to bring together all the FE (further education) and HE (higher education) partners in the LSIF project as well as key stakeholders from industry and the wider skills and training sector.

“We are looking forward to showcasing other investments from the funding over the next year and highlighting the benefits to thousands of learners.”

Andrew Wheeler, executive director of curriculum initiatives for Eastern Education Group, said: “It’s important to continue the work that we started via the previous (green skills) partnership and this new funding has given us a great opportunity to collaborate further.

“The conference was really exciting with lots of innovative ideas. This is a great example of colleges working together to create an ever closer union between ourselves and how we operate.”

Sara Hinchliffe from Suffolk New College and Dean Pierpoint from the Norfolk Chambers of Commerce have helped oversee funding for the project. Picture: Suffolk New College
Sara Hinchliffe from Suffolk New College and Dean Pierpoint from the Norfolk Chambers of Commerce have helped oversee funding for the project. Picture: Suffolk New College

Dean Pierpoint, the LSIP plan manager, said the partnership would create a closer relationship between business and education and ensure that skills gaps are closed, and sets a platform for more collaborative working in the future.

Sara Hinchliffe, skills and training officer for Suffolk Chambers of Commerce with responsibility for LSIP employer engagement, said: “This project aims to meet future skills needs that will in turn support all business sectors within this region.”

Guest speakers at the event were Jason Holt, CEO of Metaverse Learning, Susi Bauer, a games industry trainer, Chris Filip, from Game Anglia, James Hayden, of Basingstoke College of Technology, and James Parker, of USP College.