Declan’s Policy Update: Chambers’ Digital Forum

Meeting held round a table with laptops and goody bags

Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce recently held our first digital forum of the year, hosted at our Stafford office. As a digital forum, it was appropriate that members had the ‘hybrid’ choice to attend in person or join remotely.

Looking back at the pandemic it is now apparent that many of us suffered from online meeting fatigue.  Many new phrases entered our vocabulary, including “you’re on mute!” and “have you tried switching your camera off?” Feedback suggests that hybrid meetings work well, bringing people together but also avoiding the need to travel.

We discussed digital connectivity for our rural communities in Staffordshire, which are home to almost 60% of Staffordshire’s residents.    We believe that by supporting the development and progression of our rural areas, we can promote rural economic growth.

Access to a reliable digital connection is crucial for businesses in our region.  Gaps in broadband and mobile connectivity stifle business productivity and competitiveness.   We want to bring an end to ‘digital exclusion’ with rural businesses having access to decent connections allowing them to compete with rivals based in urban areas.

We want to see cutting-edge high-speed communication infrastructure, which will underpin Staffordshire’s digital future and enable businesses to fully exploit commercial opportunities in the digital ecosystem.

During the last ten years, Staffordshire County Council has worked in partnership with Openreach and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), to deliver the Superfast Staffordshire programme, aiming to connect ‘hard to reach’ communities to superfast broadband speeds (at least 24mbps) where there was no commercial provision, allowing 97% of Staffordshire properties to have available connectivity, with a take-up of 80%.

Getting better digital access for all businesses is one thing.   Having a skilled and digitally capable workforce, is another.   Digital skills have so many applications across a number of sectors and now Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce has been awarded the opportunity of developing a Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP) for Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire.

Skills shortages are regularly highlighted by businesses as a key recruitment issue and the   LSIP will aim to bridge the gaps between what skills businesses need and the capabilities of training providers to meet those needs.

We heard from Newcastle & Stafford Colleges Group (NSCG), who mentioned that first year learners studying the T-Level Digital Pathway, had been getting industry ready after heading out into workplace settings on extended placements. This will allow students to develop their practical skills within a workplace environment.  It could help to offer a practical solution to a problem or suggest a process improvement.

This links in with my previous blog in National Apprenticeship week, which mentioned our differing learning styles and by giving students the chance to apply learning in a practical environment, they will be see practical outcomes and results, helping to reinforce their learning.

We all know that Staffordshire is a great place to do business, with outstanding transport connectivity and a talented workforce. Ongoing investment in digital infrastructure and the practical application of digital skills will deliver continued growth and prosperity.  If you would like to join our digital forum and share your views, please contact:

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