Supporting digital skills will be central to our economic recovery

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Written by Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, Leader of Bradford Council, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Chair of the Future-Ready Skills Commission.

Last month, we launched another key element of our ambitious devolution deal, the West Yorkshire Local Digital Skills Partnership. This was the seventh local digital skills partnership to launch in England.

The launch of this partnership comes at a critical time as we look to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Supporting skills development will positively contribute to that recovery.

Our partnership is bringing together digital advocates and key leaders from across business, education, local communities and the third sector to form a collaborative partnership to support the region’s vision to transform lives through digital tech.

Working together provides a unique and exciting opportunity to influence the digital skills landscape across the region. The partnership has been created to inspire change and tackle local digital skills challenges with the following ambitions:

  • To inspire the growth of digital skills across West Yorkshire by reducing the digital divide with opportunities for all
  • To transform digital skills through adoption across SMEs of West Yorkshire to grow the local economy and boost productivity
  • To inspire and influence the workforce of the future by collaborating with education providers and employers to help the future generation gain the skills to meet the needs of the economy and be equipped for the jobs of the future

We know that 11.9 million adults across the UK don’t have basic digital skills and 52% of adults don’t have the essential digital skills needed for the workplace. Supporting and improving this will be central to our economic recovery. It is now more important than ever that we find new ways to for everyone to gain the skills that local employers need. Our goal is to rebuild a more inclusive and sustainable economy that works for everyone.

This was identified in the final report of the Future-Ready Skills Commission an independent, national commission supported by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and made up of experts and leading thinkers from business, education, local government and think tanks, which I chair.

The report, A Blueprint for a Future-Ready Skills System, makes nine key policy recommendations that taken together offer a bold and innovative approach to adult skills funding and careers advice, including a radical shift of powers in its delivery and governance. If enacted it would lead to an adult skills and training system that better meets the needs of local economies, and future challenges and opportunities in the workplace.

By helping people develop their digital skills across West Yorkshire we will be reducing the digital divide and enabling inclusive growth, boosting productivity for local businesses and ensuring everyone has the skills they need for the future.

The impact of COVID-19 on West Yorkshire has already been severe, and without being proactive to create future job opportunities and reducing skills gaps, the cost of inaction will weigh heavy on our people and our economy.

Prior to the pandemic, our region had the fastest growing digital sector in the country with employment growth of 48% between 2015 and 2018. We must continue to build on this key sector strength and make sure people gain the skills needed to meet the needs of the future economy and to create opportunities that everyone can benefit from.

Analysis conducted for the West Yorkshire Combined Authority shows that under a worst-case scenario, the pandemic could lead to 58,000 job losses in the next year, see our unemployment rate rising to 14% and wipe £12 billion off the value of our economy.

This would mean the West Yorkshire economy, which has shown an enviable track record in creating jobs, growth and spreading prosperity over the past decade, would be nearly a quarter smaller – taking it back to the size it was before 2000, demonstrating the importance of initiatives like the West Yorkshire Local Digital Skills Partnership.

Investing in skills development and growing the workplace for the future will reduce skills gaps, provide sustainable and inclusive growth, and ensure young people have the skills needed for the future.

This is a significant and timely initiative, and I look forward to being a part of the West Yorkshire Local Digital Skills Partnership. I would encourage anyone who is interested in supporting the growth of digital skills across our region to reduce the digital divide and create opportunities for all to become a member of the partnership.

If you are interested in participating as an active member of the partnership, please contact Mark Temple [email protected]

For more information on the West Yorkshire Local Digital Skills Partnership, please visit

For information on local careers in the digital sector or to learn more about free digital courses, please visit

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