How can young talent support local employers and accelerate the rise of the digital economy?

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Anna Coleman, Business Partnerships Manager at Weston College shares her thoughts with Business Leader regarding the importance of employing young talent to help grow the digital economy.

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Covid-19 has undoubtedly seen many sectors change the way they do business, having seen rapid migration to digital technologies over the past year. Within the last year handshakes and tip boxes have been replaced by Facebook likes and online reviews, with many employers having to shut up shop and swap brick and mortar for Zoom Calls and Microsoft Teams. In the face of the pandemic, lockdowns have seen us meet online to interact with customers and develop business partnerships.

For some of our local employers in North Somerset, the sudden transition from a physical presence on our high streets to the virtual space of the internet was a daunting prospect. Businesses had to quickly find ways to implement new methods of communicating and selling online. For those with the capabilities to refocus their digital efforts, they were already considered having a head start, whilst other businesses struggled without support to navigate through the challenge of a global pandemic. As a result, there was a significant increase in demand from employers needing to develop and enhance their online ‘shop window’ through a website.

A solution was required to enhance the digital visibility of businesses in Weston-super-Mare, but this could only be achieved through the collaboration of partners. The concept of SPACEBAR was created, a joint venture between Weston College, North Somerset Council, the Sovereign Shopping Centre, the Weston Business Improvement District, and a group of business leaders driving the new vision of the town through the Weston Place Agency. These key stakeholders recognised the need for connection, education and collaboration within the community to build stronger links and networks of support.

The SPACEBAR is a digital hub located in the heart of the high street and has taken residence in the Sovereign Centre, in a former bookshop that would have otherwise been left unoccupied. The new workspace provides tech students studying new Digital T Level and BTEC courses with valuable, practical industry experience whilst also allowing them to develop their technical skills and helping local employers.  Learners have been working on projects for local businesses, supporting them on improving their digital presence, specifically creating and enhancing websites.

Spacebar has been funded by Weston College and North Somerset Council, and is managed by the Business Improvement District team who support town centre businesses. Steve Townsend, Weston Bid Manager comments “It’s important that as a business we support local talent, and allow the learners the space to harness their skills. SPACEBAR is a fantastic opportunity not only for young people, but also for our community, and we are delighted to be part of driving the digital agenda for the region.”

With the return of non-essential retail in April, SPACEBAR is now visible on the high street, part of the new vision for Weston. Students are working on website projects in collaboration with local businesses – all visible to residents of Weston who visit the Sovereign Centre.

During Covid-19 recovery and beyond, our students at Weston College are available to help businesses realign their digital agenda and enhance their online presence through our industry placement programme. Collaboration with employers is in our DNA and we’re here to support your business, creating brighter futures for our learners. Reach out to us at employers@weston.ac.uk to discuss the support available.

Click here for more content from our special Tech Month, brought you by Weston College.

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