Digital Gum offers skills that stick

The often-overlooked but significant Thames Valley tech business cluster has a double boost this month, with the announcement of a new digital skills programme for apprentices and work returners coming hard on the heels of a new published list of 50 digital ‘game changers’ from the area.

Louize ClarkeHard to believe given the scant press attention, but Reading and the Thames Valley that surrounds it have the highest concentration of digital businesses anywhere in the UK, with the highest digital turnover outside of London at £12.5bn. The region also provides more than 45,000 digital jobs.

Tech City UK’s latest Tech Nation report, published this spring, will have come as no surprise to those familiar with the area, who well know the economic effect of playing home to big enterprises like Microsoft, Dell and Cisco. One in five businesses is tech – yet the big challenge remains the lack of a world-beating startup community.

Efforts towards growing the startup economy have centred on Green Park, on the M4 by Reading, where alongside multinational tech corporates sits the ConnectTVT hub, working out of GROW@GreenPark. Since starting work in 2014 under the leadership of Louize Clarke, ConnectTVT has worked hard to focus attention on the area’s emerging startup community, as well as putting Reading more firmly on the national tech business map.

Following a launch this month of ConnectTVT’s new Digital Gum tech skills programme, apprentices and return-to-work parents in the area will have a chance to fast-track their digital careers, providing much-needed talent for the burgeoning tech economy. A recent ConnectTVT skills survey said employers would welcome more return-to-work candidates in their workforce.

Digital Gum“Talent remains the final frontier for businesses in the Thames Valley,” said Clarke. “Digital Gum has been designed collaboratively to break that cycle, connecting the right people to the right skills. With a cohort of 80 – that’s a lot of digital talent. My hope is to create an impact for local businesses while transforming our candidates’ careers.”

The Digital Gum programme starts formally in September and is backed by Thames Valley Berkshire LEP.

In a parallel announcement, ConnectTVT has unveiled its second annual cohort of 50 Thames Valley Game Changers. The list includes smart recruitment startup MeVitae and Impact Awards-shortlisted Powermarket, alongside established scale-ups like Datasift and white-label dating giant Venntro.

Clarke said the EY-Oracle-backed Game Changers list was “not about highest turnover companies but those championing change. We need to encourage a diverse mix of businesses across our innovation layers.  There’s so much more work to do, starting with more affordable incubation space.”