The national landscape of digital skills has been a hot topic for decades: the tech sector is rapidly growing and there are simply not enough skilled people to fill the roles. This national situation is amplified in Cornwall as the region’s burgeoning commercial Space industry spearheads the demand for a data and tech expertise cluster. A demand which is highlighting major gaps in the workforce, but which also offers a massive opportunity if the region can produce enough skilled workers to fuel growth.
“Developing the correct programmes and interventions to ensure the local talent pool meets the needs of local employers is dependent on an understanding of labour market insights.”
Cornwall’s Digital Skills Partnership, a strategic board which champions digital skills as the key to Cornwall’s future, was commissioned by Cornwall and Isles of Scilly (CIoS) Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to gather data on the capabilities and limitations of the current digital ecosystem – the first report of its kind in the region.
The study, which focuses on advanced and specialist digital skills, informs local strategy and design for future programmes to help employers and the future workforce in addressing the digital skills gap, highlighting a significant opportunity for Cornwall to turn around its economic prospects.
“It’s fantastic to see the public sector picking up something that the private sector has been shouting about for so many years. There is so much growth potential in the region, and talent availability is one of the most crucial bottlenecks we’re contending with at the moment.”
-Samuele Armondi, Managing Director, Thought Quarter
A full time worker in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly earns 84% of the national average salary (Economic Observator, June 2021). In Camborne the food bank provides 23,000 meals a week to over 540 families. (Aljazeera) The average house price here is nine times the average salary, with fewer homes to let than any other region in the UK and 11,000 on the waiting list (Cornwall Council). Lack of digital skills further compounds these depressing economic statistics. Low earners with the least digital knowledge pay 42% more on utilities than the most engaged. However, the growing tech scene could provide a silver lining.
Cornwall contributes an estimated £13.6 billion GVA to the UK’s economy. And the fastest growing sector in the South West, tech accounts for 4.1% of that, a huge £553 million GVA. With an 8,457 strong workforce in Cornwall and 168,847 across the South West, TechNation reports tech vacancies have increased over the last year, from 145k roles advertised in May 2021 to 181k roles in May 2022. The earning power of digital, data and technology jobs is significantly higher than the regional average salary – the DSP reports a software developer can expect to earn over £39,000 while the average wage in Cornwall is £23,000. If Cornwall can concentrate on creating opportunities in this sector for those on the lowest wages, and upskilling those furthest from the labour market, there’s potential for a meaningful economic boost.
“The digital sector is a key area of growth for Cornwall. In addition to those jobs which are directly created in the sector there are huge areas for growth in tech metals, geothermal energy, floating offshore wind, aerospace and agri-food, all of which need digital skills. We now have a unique opportunity to upskill our workforce to prepare them for the future needs of our employers. We want Cornish residents to fill these new highly paid jobs and we need to work with our local education providers to prepare people of all ages for the future of these industries.”
-Louis Gardner, Cornwall Council Cabinet Member and Portfolio Holder for the Economy
The Digital Skills Partnership is working with the partners and industry stakeholders to make this a reality. Digital skills are firmly embedded into the current investment strategies for the central government funds that will replace European funding. Software Cornwall is harnessing the collaborative spirit of local employers and providing training that leads to new careers for low earners. And Cornwall Council is backing a Digital Academy that supercharges the sector by linking up and investing in local skills provision. Like the rest of the country, Cornwall is recovering from the pandemic and now faces the growing Cost of Living crisis. But if it can harness a potential digital future, there is a vital ray of hope.