Leigh College’s new Digital Skills Academy is up and running with this year’s students benefitting from the specialist facilities.

The facility has been developed in response to current research findings that suggest there are skills shortages in the digital sector, including in cyber security, software development and programming.

The Digital Skills Academy has been partly funded by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership (GM LEP) through the Local Growth Fund. It presents an exciting opportunity for Leigh College learners to take advantage of their skills and knowledge in this field to gain future employment in a growing sector.

Cllr Sean Fielding, Leader of Oldham Council and GMCA lead for Employment, Skills and Digital, said: “This is great news for Leigh College and a prime example of how we are working in close partnership to address the skills gap and support young people across Greater Manchester.

“The Digital Academy will provide state-of-the-art facilities in which learners can discover their talents, realise their potential and become ready to enter the workforce.”

Mo Isap, Co-chair of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “In partnership with the GMCA, the GM LEP is proud to have invested in Wigan and Leigh College’s Digital Skills Academy.

“It is vital that we support Greater Manchester’s thriving digital and creative sectors by developing our young people, nurturing a homegrown, demand-led skills talent pipeline. The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation, particularly with enabling technologies such as IoT / AI and Cloud computing.

“This facility gives students the opportunity to gain sought-after technical skills and qualifications that will eventually help them start a career in the digital sector.”

The Academy aims to meet the needs of the digital sector, including the games development industry where there is a particular skills shortage for the mathematicians and computer scientists needed to build increasingly sophisticated products.

The College has developed three state-of-the-art learning laboratories; each with equipment focusing on a specific digital specialism which will enhance the student learning experience.

One specialist area is The Internet of Things laboratory, which comes equipped with facilities to develop electronic products that sense their immediate environment and allow for automated control of home electronics with integration via smart home products like Amazon Alexa and Hive.

A Cyber Security and Digital Technologies laboratory will allow students to develop skills in the use of software and techniques in Web Development as well as Cloud Computing and Games Development with the use of VR technologies.

There is also a Robotics and Artificial Intelligence laboratory that is designed to help students learn how to build and programme robots to fulfil a range of activities. Equipment includes walking robots, including a six-legged spider robot, robotic arms and 3D AI software.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport’s research findings suggest there are cyber security skills gaps in basic and high-level technical skills, as well as managerial, planning and organisational skills.

Half of an estimated 1.32million UK businesses are not confident about carrying out cyber security risk assessments or preparing cyber security training meaning there will be plenty of positions available in this sector.

Skills in artificial intelligence and data analytics for example will be in greater demand, according to findings from the labour market review.

BTEC Level 3 Computer Science student, Jakub Kryszak said: “The digital academy is an exciting addition to the College as it has made our lessons far more dynamic as we get to use the latest technology in class such as the virtual reality equipment. This means we are able to experience these developments in the computing field rather than just learning about them.

“The computers are far more advanced which enables us to carry out our assignments in a modern and inspiring environment.”

Head of Business & Computing, Nick Long said: “The new state of the art facilities will provide a unique learning experience which will help to prepare our students for both higher level study and progression to employment.

“Our specially designed courses are aimed to provide our students with technical skills preparation for an ever-expanding digital industry where the opportunities for employment are much greater.”

From September 2021, the College will introduce a new T Level qualification in Digital Production, Design & Development where students will be able to spend approximately 45 days over their two-year course on work placement to gain first-hand experience alongside learning at the state of the art academy at Leigh College.

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