Join the dots – a focus for Dynamo for 2021

Sophie Mazrekaj, 10th February 2021

The thread that ran through the first two Advisory Board Meetings of the year – and will no doubt continue to advise all of Dynamo’s activity this year – was ‘join the dots’. There are so many initiatives underway in the region at present, with a significant amount of people working towards similar goals. It is therefore apparent that one of our roles is to join the dots, to connect people with one another, to enable best practice sharing and to continue working closely with North East FE providers, SMEs, global corporates and charities so there is one ‘joined up’ programme and voice for the region.

Of course, top of the current global agenda is health and therefore, Health tech, and the North East is no different. Dynamo is making great strides in this area, working alongside Healthtech cluster partner CGI. Mark Thompson, CGI’s Director of Consulting Services and our Dynamo cluster industry lead, updated us on the progress made over the previous month in the January meeting and outlined the aims for the cluster which include the creation of jobs, improvement and development of education in this field and acceleration of the growth of SMEs. There are many opportunities for tech to help the health sector, with some propositions even having the potential to be taken to a global scale.

In the February meeting, Healthtech Cluster Manager Emma Whitenstall updated us on an exciting new project that the cluster is working on with Gateshead based SaaS platform Wordnerds. ‘What aren’t patients telling us?’ is the cluster’s next showcase event which will present the findings of this research project on Patient Experience, which is being conducted in partnership with CGI. The objective of the research is to obtain new insight into what people say on social media regarding their real experience as maternity and mental health services patients. During the event we will discuss how we applied sentiment analysis and cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology to surface this insight. The ultimate goal of this research is to find ways to improve health and social care services in these important areas. If you would like to join the event you can register here.

Another urgent issue that Dynamo is taking steps to address is that of digital skills. Cate Kalson of Oliver Wyman raised the importance of this during the January meeting, stating that it is essential we look at the health of our skills pipeline, that we train people up and retain them here in the North East. We need to work collaboratively to promote the creation of entry level jobs and, in turn, create the same scale of opportunity that is available elsewhere in the country. A renewed emphasis on skills is imperative if we are to grow the region’s tech sector.

This topic was the focus of our discussion in February’s meeting, with Cate first giving us an overview of a project she is working on, one of Dynamo’s North of Tyne bids to grow the number of jobs in the region. The ‘Talent Engine’ will be the result of a collaboration between employers, current initiatives and Dynamo to identify the challenges that employers are currently facing, where the gaps are and ultimately what we can do to maintain a healthy skills pipeline here in the North East.

Jenny Hartley of NGI suggested that one way of attracting and keeping talent here is to promote the region as an attractive place to live, selling not just the career opportunities but also the quality of life. To drive this strategy, NGI have appointed Dan Peck as the new Head of Inward Investment. Dan will help drive Newcastle and Gateshead’s commitment to attracting and securing new investment and creating jobs.

We then heard from Sam Ogle, Digital Curriculum Manager at Sunderland College and Hartlepool Sixth Form. The issue of work placements during the pandemic and beyond is a growing concern; the new ‘T-Level’ qualification is a 2-year course, of which 20% must be employer based. This requires employers in the region to support and engage with the FE establishments to share the burden, enabling students to enhance their education with meaningful work experience placements. Sam presented to the board, explaining that learners are looking for placements within a range of digital sectors to be able to gain industry experience which can feed into their future careers. Placements can be physical or remote. If you can help, please fill in this survey. You can see Sam’s presentation here:

Dynamo Board Presentation 08.02.2021

When talking about digital skills, digital inclusion must also be considered. The pandemic has highlighted the digital poverty gap, with many children and young people in our region unable to keep up with their studies due to a lack of equipment and/or access to data. Digital access needs to be widened and urgently. How can we improve the employability of people from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds? There are no easy answers, but we can see there is certainly an appetite here in the North East to help those who need it most.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, another important agenda Dynamo are working hard to drive change on through our #HERO campaign, is led by Fareeha Usman. We are preparing a digital archive to recognise our unsung heroes and role models that are playing an important part in making the North East diverse, equal and inclusive. We will use this information to create case studies and role models from the diverse talent we have in the tech sector of the North East to dignify and inspire! If you can identify 1-2 people from your organisation working on the EDI agenda, please take part in the #HERO survey.

Fareeha is planning an online event for mid-April with people who represent the values that Dynamo now wishes to embody. The event will share findings from Dynamo’s EDI report, consider next steps for our region’s tech network and amplify the voices of the people who have taken the time to fill in the survey.

Everyone is grappling with the same issues at the moment and, like any ‘get together’, the board meetings are an effective way of not only sharing our challenges but also of reminding ourselves that we’re not alone in this historic situation, we’re all in this together and together we have a responsibility to help others, in particular those that are bearing the brunt of it. We all have a responsibility to our wider communities, and to our younger and older generations.


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