Bridge Digital Skills Gap by Working Together, Says MEU

A group of universities in the Midlands is urging SMEs to work together to overcome digital challenges as the region lags behind the rest of the UK in digital skills.

Midlands Enterprise Universities (MEU), a consortium of universities across the Midlands, is making the call to action after research published last week by Lloyds Bank Business and Charity Index showed that less than half of SMEs in the region have the basic digital skills that could drive growth.

Jenny Kenning, Director of MEU, commented: “This is bad news for the region’s future economic prosperity as digital technology has been identified by the Government as one of the key drivers of economic growth.

“We already know that SMEs with a strong web presence on average grow more than twice as quickly as those with minimal or no presence, export twice as much, and create twice as many jobs.

“However, this outlook is not irreversible. The key to improvement for our region is working together and forming deep partnerships with other businesses, stakeholders, LEPs and universities to tackle common problems together. If we do that as a region, SMEs in the Midlands will unleash their true growth potential.”

The annual UK-wide report, which was first commissioned by Lloyds Bank in 2014, goes on to report that businesses are missing out on £85 billion each year owing to a lack of digital capability.

However, the report did highlight that 99% of businesses have now moved online – an increase of 7% from the previous year.

The report comes ahead of the MEU’s digital partnerships conference at Coventry University on Wednesday (5th December) which aims to encourage SMEs in the Midlands to work with universities to overcome digital challenges.

Jenny Kenning continued: “If we want bridge the digital skills gap, we must begin work now. We’re holding this conference to give our SMEs the foundation and platform to form digital partnerships to overcome many of the common challenges together.

“We must embrace digital technology because developments are moving at such a fast pace. It’s critical that our region’s SMEs work together with each other and the educational sector to harness the huge potential that digital technology presents.”

The ‘Joining Forces to Create Solutions: Digital Partnerships’ conference is being held at Coventry University on Wednesday 5th December from 10am to 1pm and is aimed at SMEs, LEPs, councils, Growth Hubs and other digital stakeholders.

The event will feature keynote speeches from Sarah Windrum (CEO and co-founder of the Emerald Group), Dr Mike Short CBE (Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for International Trade) and Professor John Latham (Vice Chancellor of Coventry University).

The MEU, made up of six universities including Birmingham City, Coventry, Derby, Lincoln, Nottingham Trent and Wolverhampton, is actively working to support the Midlands Engine’s growth plans to increase the region’s economy by £34bn by 2030.

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